LEAH MUSES ON MISSED OP­POR­TU­NI­TIES

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Mal­colm Forbes

med­ley of gos­sip and jab­ber, ad­ver­tis­ing jin­gles, snatches of eaves­dropped con­ver­sa­tions. A com­mu­nist post­man quotes Keats; Felix’s play­mate spouts Thomas Wy­att.

Only to­wards the end does Smith se­ri­ously mis­step by hav­ing Natalie sud­denly and im­prob­a­bly dab­ble in three­somes watched by on­line voyeurs. It isn’t enough to de­rail the novel but it makes us won­der how well Smith knows her own char­ac­ters. Also, for a self­pro­claimed comic nov­el­ist, lines such as ‘‘ I am de­cid­edly not the salt of the earth [but] the co­caine on the mir­ror’’ and Natalie be­ing ‘‘ help­lessly, com­pul­sively, ad­verbly ad­dicted to the in­ter­net’’ are woe­ful.

Smith’s choice of struc­ture means NW is oc­ca­sion­ally episodic, lop­sided and less than the sum of its parts. Also, there are traces of the gim­micky fonts and lin­guis­tic trick­ery that Smith re­lied on in The Au­to­graph Man (2002).

But on the whole her case study of a Lon­don community is as real as the one we saw in White Teeth, and as in­ven­tive, only with­out the ex­cess. The drama is res­o­lutely low key — un­hys­ter­i­cal re­al­ism — yet dev­as­tat­ing in all the right places. That 10-year-old tap-dancer has grown up to be­come less flashy and even more sure-footed.

Zadie Smith has toned down the com­edy in

her new novel

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