Friday, 27 September 2013


London is the place for me
Zadie Smith rose to fame as a young writer back in 2001 with her debut White Teeth, an ambitious book that won a few awards an introduced to the literary world a new .Despite its success and critical acclaim, I wasn't hugely impressed by a novel that failed to convince me. As an example, I much preferred and enjoyed Monica Ali's Brick Lane, a book that shared with Smith's a certain look at how migrant communities settled in North London.
The fact that both books had been written by two female writers, themselves examples of those very migrants who had arrived in Britain a generation earlier, seemed to herald a new era in multicultural Britain.
A few books on and it is fair to say that Smith's impressive talent hasn't faded away. In fact, quite the opposite, I think.
After the stylish and funny On Beauty, an acid satire of academia across the pond, this talented writer takes us now all the way back to North West London (hence the title); this way, the author stays home turf as this is where she was born.
The book follows the lives of four Londoners who grew up in the same North West council estate; two of them, Leah and Natalie, have been best friends ever since a dramatic event in a swimming pool brought them together. The other two, Felix and Nathan, had led their own lives but through different events, they will eventually encounter their old friends.
It has been said that no other writer has been able to capture London life like this since Dickens. That seems to me rather a statement which I don't feel qualified to agree with or even question. Regardless, Zadie Smith's prose is brilliant, it flows in such a way that one imagines and hears the characters' accents as though they were talking to you. That is where the merits of this novel lay.
NW  grabs you from the very first page with splendid and very well defined characters and a vibrant story (or stories) that resonates with anyone, Londoner or otherwise, who has experienced what urban life is like.
A highly recommend read.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Those who burn books

'Burn them to ashes, then burn the ashes'

Here's a proper classic, one of those books you are meant to read before you die, so I'm I glad I eventually did. Published in 1953, it's worth remembering that the McCarhty era was at its height, so in a way the story  makes more sense when seeing against a climate of censorship and fear, in which intellectual activity is regarded as suspicious by the powers that be.
Bradbury clearly struck gold by imagining a dystopian society that bans books and has firemen burning them rather than putting out fires; it's a bleak scenario indeed, one that at the very least engages the reader in a way that few other novels do, and that's where the true genius of Bradbury's creation lies.
I wouldn't be saying anything new if, as most people have, I link it with other equally unsettling  and disturbing novels such as, of course, Orwell's 1984 and Huxley's Brave New World.
All three share  a somehow prophetic and critical view of Western society, touching subjects that today, decades later, have become commonplace. Conformity, drugs and how our lives are controlled by the media and technology were advanced by these visionaries.
Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which book-paper catches fire and burns, apparently.Guy Montag, the main character, is one of those firemen in charge of burning books. However, his life changes when he meets Clarisse, a young girl who is 'seventeen and crazy' whose free-thinking attitude will challenge the fireman's approach and outlook.
It is easy to imagine the influence this book has had not only on other science-fiction writers of the time but also on people with some sort of critical attitude and dislike of totalitarian regimes, particularly given the book's powerful insight into what such a society will look like.
In short, this is a must-read that, sixty years from its publication, still dazzles and intrigues the reader.