Poor Felix. I guess that says it all. Guest is an easy read. This section of the novel is written in more familiar, fluid prose. Gone are the staccato stops and starts, the noisy voices of radio, advertising and other characters crowding the text. The character arc is simple, tragic. Felix Cooper is a drug addict reformed, a man in love. Maybe not everything he does across the course of this one London day is the conventional behaviour of a man in love (that rooftop scene with the tampon: blush). But Felix Cooper is never anything less than likeable.
Until his life is fatally interrupted, at the end of a Tube ride, on a side street, watching a girl step onto a bus. Zadie Smith uses the geography of London to shape Guest, each chapter framed by a postcode, beginning and ending in NW6. Her detail and dialogue is as always pitch perfect. Whenever I talk to Guy about NW, he says she’s so good at doing men. This is true. (No pun intended, despite the amount of vagina packed into The Daily this week.) Felix is very convincing. That scene over the sale of the car: I couldn’t write it in a month of Sundays.
Part of the pleasure of reading NW is always Smith’s technical virtuosity. This isn’t just her agile facility with language, her ability to change registers and tones – even her harshest critics must agree on her abundant talent in this area. Smith also creates characters that are – stop the press – believable. If this sounds a bit trite, maybe it is. But I completely believe there is a Felix Cooper out there somewhere in north-west London and I hope the real Felix enjoys a happier fate, that his life isn’t broken down into a series of snapshots in a bus stop: “Five and innocent at this bus stop. Fourteen and drunk. Twenty-six and stoned. Twenty-nine in utter oblivion, out of his mind on Coke and K: ‘You can’t sleep here, son. You either need to move it along or we’ll have to take you in to the station to sleep it off.’”
I missed the fundamental link: Felix’s death was revealed as a news story in the final pages of Leah’s story. (I guess I was still reeling from the death of Olive.)
At the moment, I’m feeling a bit intellectually cuckolded by all the other NW reviews out there. Once you have read what Joyce Carol Oates has to say, you do tend to feel rather stymied.
So here is Smith in her own words, talking about the “cocoon of class”.