“The real mystery of NW is that it falls so far short of being a successful novel, though it contains the makings of three or four.” That was Adam Mars-Jones’s verdict in the Guardian. Over in sister Sunday paper the Observer, Rachel Cooke thought more kindly of the book, believing “the wonderful bits more than make up for the less wonderful” (which is pretty much my own view).
Philip Hensher in the Sunday Telegraph went further. Way, way further, saying that ”like all four of Smith’s wonderful novels, it relies on what always makes a novel go: a humane love of and interest in men and women, overlooked and yet worth our deepest interest. It is a joyous, optimistic, angry masterpiece, and no better English novel will be published this year, or, probably, next.” Over on the Daily Telegraph, Zenga Longmore thought the novel was Smith “at her most eccentrically complex”. That was a good thing, by the way.
“Brisk exposition bluntly informs the reader that on first meeting they ‘had anal sex before they had vaginal sex’. Is there such a thing as overshare with imaginary characters?” wondered Suzy Feay in the Independent on Sunday. As for Boyd Tonkin in the daily Independent: ”Faithful to its riven and polarised city, NW cussedly refuses to hang together. Read it as a bold embrace of an age of ‘sudden and total rupture’, when every clock keeps its own time, or else as a self-sabotaging flight from coherence in the service of abstract dogma. Either way, Zadie Smith’s quarrel with herself still gives rise to a fierce and fractured poetry.”
In the Daily Mail (if you can tear yourself away from that “Topless, so what? Kate gets the giggles as she is greeted by bare-chested tribal women in Solomon Islands on Royal tour” or, even better, “Rooney hooker Jenny Thompson reveals she is pregnant – and the father could be one of FIVE possible men”), James Walton reckoned: “For all its many moments of brilliance, NW ends up seeming not only a portrait of the loss of youthful fearlessness, but also a demonstration of it.”
Leo Robson, writing at somewhat greater length in the New Statesman, made the well-observed point that “Smith’s shortcomings as a writer mostly consist in her efforts to compensate for shortcomings she doesn’t have”. (Robson’s equally long review of Ian McEwan’s Sweet Tooth is also worth reading. Not that I’ve got it in for McEwan or anything.)
Right, that’s enough reviews for one day – for me to compile if not for you to read.
The other British reviews are behind paywalls etc.
Tomorrow, the Americans.