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Exclusive: The First Lines of Zadie Smith’s NW

By posted at 6:00 am on July 9, 2012 19

coverThere’s a lot for readers to look forward to in the second-half of the year, and high up on the list is Zadie Smith’s first novel in seven years, NW. Lydia covered the book in our big preview published last week, “NW follows a group of people from Caldwell–a fictional council estate in northwest London whose buildings are named for English philosophers–and documents the lives they build in adulthood. Smith (who since 2005 has become a mother, NYU professor, and Harper’s columnist) has variously called this a novel of class and a “very, very small book” (highly unlikely). Smith’s own deep roots to London, and this particular corner of London, were most recently aired in her stirring defense of London’s local libraries for the New York Review of Books blog.” Smith sets the scene evocatively in the book’s opening paragraph.

The fat sun stalls by the phone masts. Anti-climb paint turns sulphurous on school gates and lampposts. In Willesden people go barefoot, the streets turn European, there is a mania for eating outside. She keeps to the shade. Redheaded. On the radio: I am the sole author of the dictionary that defines me. A good line—write it out on the back of a magazine. In a hammock, in the garden of a basement flat. Fenced in, on all sides.

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19 Responses to “Exclusive: The First Lines of Zadie Smith’s NW”

  1. Jeffrey
    at 10:49 am on July 9, 2012

    Exciting! If you’re still curious, there’s a slightly longer extract on page 32 of the Penguin Press’s fall catalog: http://booksellers.penguin.com/static/pdf/penguinpress-fall12.pdf

  2. Brendan
    at 11:45 am on July 9, 2012

    Well, I’m in! Ms. Smith always always seem to leave me disappointed in the end, yet I keep coming back for more.

  3. Matt J
    at 10:13 am on July 10, 2012

    Style is nice, very “To the Lighthouse.”

  4. Mr Dick Turpin
    at 10:46 am on July 10, 2012

    Those opening lines pretty much fail to communicate anything except that they use English in a highly non-vernacular style. Imagine, if you would, someone walking up to you on the street and speaking those lines. Well, if you were in a bad mood, you would probably frown and continue walking. And if you were in a good mood, you might pause and laugh. But would you ever think you were in the presence of a genuine storyteller?

    I’ve read Smith’s prior books, and they’re similarly bad. (I’m a glutton for punishment.) It’s not her fault, of course — it’s her editor’s fault: they apparently cannot (or will not) rein in her excessive prolixity.

    Mr. Dick Turpin

  5. Jay
    at 12:00 pm on July 10, 2012

    It’s unfair to judge a book based on a handful of sentences, but I didn’t much care for this either. I’ve come around to Smith as an essayist. Her non-fiction pieces are assured and persuasive; I think that’s where she does her best writing. But I find her fiction labored, derivative and unconvincing, the work of an author who is very smart and has read a lot of books, but who doesn’t finally possess the kind of intuitive distinctiveness that great writers have.

    Granted, there were good things in “White Teeth” and “The Autograph Man”, but I thought “On Beauty” was godawful. I was particularly confounded by the praise for Smith’s American dialogue, which I found quite unnatural and tin-eared. And now it appears she’s gone from E.M. Forster pastiche to Virginia Woolf!

    I think I’ll just wait for the next collection of essays.

  6. Newsday Tuesday « Books and Bowel Movements
    at 4:33 pm on July 10, 2012

    […] First Lines of Zadie Smith’s New Novel @ The Millions […]

  7. Anti jay
    at 5:09 pm on July 10, 2012

    Those sentences accomplish what entire books sometimes fail to do: they paint a portrait of a culture. Actively read the details instead of just stereotyping because you can’t access the language.

  8. Chris Roberts
    at 5:13 pm on July 10, 2012

    That’ s an awful paragraph. “The fat sun…makes me want to get in the shade, away from this hackneyed “prose.”

  9. Ryan Ries
    at 8:37 pm on July 10, 2012

    Well, Anti jay, I actively read the details. There’s a sentence about weather, one about paint drying, some stream-of-consciousness, and some nice scene setting. Let’s not get carried away here. “Paint a picture of a culture” it does not. Nor does dissent = “stereotyping”.

    For me, the prose seems awful strained…but again, it’s one paragraph.

  10. elle
    at 5:27 am on July 11, 2012

    OK, I thought I was the only one who was not impressed with ZM’s fiction. I tried to like her due to the buzz, and I thought I was missing something by not loving it. But I see I was not alone after all.

  11. What Ever Happened to Hysterical Realism? | Entertainment | TIME.com
    at 10:00 am on July 11, 2012

    […] at least I think this is what’s happening. I have on my night-table at home a copy of NW, Zadie Smith’s new novel, which is—like that biography of David Foster Wallace—due out in […]

  12. Book links roundup: Kobo to enter Italian market, Fifty Shades of Grey film snags producers, and more | Quillblog | Quill & Quire
    at 11:10 am on July 11, 2012

    […] The Millions’ releases opening lines of Zadie Smith’s NW […]

  13. Bee R.
    at 10:19 pm on July 11, 2012

    It’s a shame that people who admit they don’t even like Zadie Smith clicked on the link just to criticize. I’ve never seen comments deliberately so de-constructive on The Millions before. People finding community in ganging up on an author. Worse it’s coming from adults on a site for literates, not adolescents on some pop music blog.

  14. Josh
    at 10:56 pm on July 11, 2012

    Give Zadie a chance. If you’re not sold on the first paragraph, chances are there may be some better ones in the pages that follow. If you’re not a huge fan, then don’t get ‘NW’ in hardcover.

    I would count ‘White Teeth’ and ‘On Beauty’ in my top 25. I love her characters, her situations, and her prose in both of those efforts.

    I enjoy a couple details in the paragraph The Millions shared: the anti-climb paint gives us instantly an institutional, antiseptic sensation, where fun and mischief are outlawed through the application of a substance. It’s almost as though law enforcement is cheating.

    The language is also not so spare that we don’t immediately get a sense of the woman rendered here: idealistic, a dreamer, striving.

  15. Jane
    at 4:05 pm on July 14, 2012

    Well, it is more like poetry, and anyone may write if they so wish.

  16. Så här börjar Zadie Smiths nya roman NW: | Annika Koldenius
    at 6:56 am on August 20, 2012

    […] Så här börjar Zadie Smiths nya roman NW enligt en artikel i nätmagasinet The Millions. […]

  17. Zadie Smith: NW « Asylum
    at 4:01 am on September 3, 2012

    […] other things to occupy her, not least becoming a parent. She has, perhaps to dampen expectations, called her new novel a “very, very small […]

  18. What You Missed This Week (7/9-7/13) | Little Losers Blog
    at 4:42 pm on June 12, 2013

    […] One of the best novelists out there right now, Zadie Smith is releasing her first novel since 2005′s brilliant On Beauty this Fall. It’s titled NW, and the book site The Millions got a hold of its first paragraph. […]

  19. » What Ever Happened to Hysterical Realism?
    at 6:55 am on March 5, 2015

    […] at least I think this is what’s happening. I have on my night-table at home a copy of NW, Zadie Smith’s new novel, which is—like that biography of David Foster […]

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