49 pages 1 hour read

Zadie Smith


Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2012

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The Relationship between Urban Geography and Human Behavior

NW declares its connection to geography in its very title, which refers to the actual postal code for northwest London. The novel makes numerous references to street names, bridges, parks, buildings, and map directions—most of which highlight real places. However, the novel is not simply interested in providing a realistic depiction of London. Rather, the geographic references are a backdrop against which characters’ identities, motivations, and actions emerge.

On one hand, London spaces are imagined to define people. In section 173 of “Host,” for instance, characters at a public pool are having an argument, each proudly mentioning where they are from with the implication that some areas of London (like Hackney) are superior to others (like Harlesden). On the other hand, the attempts of characters such as Natalie, Michel, and Leah to leave certain neighborhoods (with varying degrees of success) shows that a core conflict in the novel is the struggle against the idea that where a person is from defines who they are.

In the novel, open spaces like sidewalks, parks, and public transportation tend to be sites of drama and danger. Alternatively, private and indoor sites depict intimate, domestic life.