NW: Zadie Smith

The joys of a recommended book; the stamp of an award, a splattering of stars embossed upon the cover telling the avid and excited reader that this is it! This is a book that has won its accolades and you can be strong in the mind that it’s a stunner, a thought provoking number that will pull you from the very start to the bitter end; oh shucks who am I kidding, you can never trust a book by its cover and this was unfortunately my feelings for NW by Zadie Smith.

NW was a bit of a shock for me, as an avid reader and reviewer for many years I was shocked by its messy plot line and the way that it meandered through North West London trying to show a multicultural portrait of NW London. Set in the area where Smith grew up — the NW of the title — the plot is rather a sub story with Smith favouring building up character profiles as we stumble through awkward and sometimes uncomfortable encounters with a handful of locals.

However there are two central characters to NW’s plot line; Natalie Blake and Leah Hanwell, who have been best friends since they were 4. As they approach their mid-30s they realise they have grown further and further apart. Natalie has thrown herself into work becoming a successful corporate lawyer and changing her birth name, Keisha as she desperately tries to distance herself from her background. Leah works for a charity and remains tied to the hopeless circumstances in which they were both raised. Both, it eventually becomes clear, are uncertain about the directions their lives have taken. Natalie is the book’s most vivid figure, and her struggle to find her place in the world is at times emotional and moving.

The reason that NW confused me and sometimes gave me a terrible headache was its odd structure. Part of the story is told in 185 mini chapters, whilst other chapters do not end! You get to the end of the page to turn over and there is a new chapter with a completely new character! Smith also jumps into conversations mid-thought, and the narrative is fractured. However if you struggle through you will start to make sense of the reasoning.  The effect is overall deliberately disorienting; with the discomfort that the reader feels emulated in the unease that Smiths characters also feel! I found the book hard to swallow however I implore you to give it a go. Although I’m not sure it deserved so many rewards it definitely struck me as something a little different.Image

I Capture the Castle: Dodie Smith

When it comes to books I try never give up! My mum has always taught me that you can never know if you do not like things until you have tried them ten times. Now this was supposed to relate to foods when I was a child (I still do not like blueberries, custard or jelly despite trying them ten times,) However I now also try to relate this rule to books! Unfortunately, there are still books that I cannot get into after all this time! I wonder how long I’m supposed to struggle through before I finally surrender and abandon ship. Or the disappointing feeling when I get to the end and I don’t feel that satisfied glow of the end of a story This is unfortunately how I felt when I read I Capture the Castle.

Now I feel that there could be potentially a number of howls of HOW did you not LOVE this book! I have read so many reviews that want to yell from the rooftops about its brilliance! It is the story of Cassandra Mortmain who lives with her bohemian and impoverished family in a crumbling castle in the middle of nowhere. Her journal records her life with her beautiful, bored sister, Rose, her fadingly glamorous stepmother, Topaz, her little brother Thomas and her eccentric novelist father who suffers from a financially crippling writer’s block. However, all their lives are turned upside down when the American heirs to the castle arrive and Cassandra finds herself falling in love for the first time.

Although I found this book extremely hard at times there were points in the book that I did really enjoy as a reader. Firstly the way that the book is told in first person and by writing the book in diary form it allows a personal review and reflection from the main character, which allows the reader to connect. As a reader, I found Cassandra difficult to relate to, as I didn’t find her convincing enough to create a link with but the diary format helped this. I also liked the way that the book had a number of twists and turns that I was not expecting along the way which is refreshing and it sets it apart from other young adult reads.

When I read the blurb of this book, I thought that this was definitely a book for me due to its picturesque and beautiful feel. However, as I moved through the book, it didn’t capture or connect with my imagination no matter how I often I kept dipping into it. The problem for me was that I thought that Cassandra’s character was too naïve and overall lacked conviction. I think this is due to the young age of the character meaning she has not experienced or had known the world and this for me left me wanting more from the character as a whole. The writing due to the book being in this form is concise and easy to read. There are no frantically beautiful descriptions however I found that this brought the book down as it lacked realism and emotion for me as a reader. I feel that this could potentially need another read as I may have missed the potential that it has to really move the reader and therefore I need to get stuck in and give this another go. Overall I thought the book was enjoyable but it left me wanting more emotion, definition and feeling to really cause me to fall in love with this book as a whole. Image