Caldwell — the housing project where the characters were raised — is the only fictional place on a very real map … Though it remains absolutely rooted, stuck to the map, contexts change and narrative styles shift. This is a book in which you never know how things will come together or what will happen next … Smith’s previous novels have been exuberantly plotted, and were resolved in a highly ‘novelistic’ way. This book is much more tentative and touching in its conclusions … NW represents a deliberate undoing; an unpacking of Smith’s abundant narrative gifts to find a deeper truth, audacious and painful as that truth may be.
Smith’s fiction has never been this deadly, direct, or economical…NW is embroidered with eccentric flourishes—a (baffling) prose poem here, a section in numbered sequences there. And the staccato street scenes let her strut … Where, why, and how these women diverge is the book’s inquiry and one of Smith’s great obsessions: ideological differences between intimates, how we grow with—and apart—from the people we love best … She’s given us a book soggy with feelings but one that illustrates how political identities—race, class, sexual orientation—influence our putatively personal decisions, how our choices are as distinctive as our fingerprints.
Despite its postmodernist features, NW is essentially a bildungsroman with two protagonists who become friends as four-year-olds in a council estate called Caldwell in northwest London…The novel’s few transcendent moments are shared by the women, who are clearly ‘sisters’ in the deepest sense of the word … Keisha/Natalie is very likely the most sustained, sympathetic, and believable figure in all of Zadie Smith’s fiction, encompassing as she does an astonishing variety of characters and types … NW is an unexpectedly ironic companion novel to White Teeth, a darker and more nuanced portrait of a multiracial culture in the throes of a collective nervous breakdown. Its perimeters are forever changing, like its accents and the tenor of its neighborhoods.