NW by Zadie Smith, narrated by Karen Bryson and Don Gilet
Published in audio by Penguin Audio, published in print by The Penguin Press, both imprints of Penguin
From the publisher:
This is the story of a city.
The northwest corner of a city. Here you’ll find guests and hosts, those with power and those without it, people who live somewhere special and others who live nowhere at all. And many people in between.
Every city is like this. Cheek-by-jowl living. Separate worlds.
And then there are the visitations: the rare times a stranger crosses a threshold without permission or warning, causing a disruption in the whole system. Like the April afternoon a woman came to Leah Hanwell’s door, seeking help, disturbing the peace, forcing Leah out of her isolation…
Thoughts on the story:
In classic Zadie Smith fashion, NW is a challenging book, one which falls somewhere between a novel and a collection of linked stories. Leah and Natalie’s stories are very much intertwined and inform one another. The girls grew up together in the Caldwell housing estates and have achieved varying degrees of success. Felix’s story is only tangentially related to the women’s stories and, for me, was more of a distraction than anything else. It was quite a long digression in the middle of the book that nearly made me lose interest. Overall, though, I thought that the stories Smith told did a wonderful job showcasing the diversity of urban life in NW London.
Thoughts on the audio production:
Let’s just be honest, Don Gilet is probably the only thing that kept me interested in Felix’s story when it interrupted those of Leah and Natalie, he did a truly wonderful job. I am slightly more conflicted about Karen Bryson’s performance. On one hand, she is practically a chameleon with voices and accents. She is able to differentiate between characters and bring them fully to life. On the other hand, she has a tendency to make wet mouth noises, which have a tendency to give me the creeps. At least one time when she smacks her mouth it is a conscious choice in voicing a character, but it seems much of the rest of the time that this is just her natural inclination between words, which bothers me a bit.
NW is challenging, but worthwhile. I am certain that the audio helped me make it through what might have been a more difficult read in print, but listeners overly disturbed by wet mouth noises in narration may want to give this a miss.
For more please see my review for Audiofile Magazine.
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