I just picked up Zadie Smith’s most recent novel, NW, and wanted to share this passage. After Chapter 9 provides directions from A to B the way Google Maps would, she goes on in Chapter 10 to give them sensorially. If only routes could be given this way; the way we actually experience and move through the city. Smith writes the following,
“From A to B redux:
Sweet stink of the hookah, couscous, kebab, exhaust fumes of a bus deadlock. 98, 16, 32, standing room only—quicker to walk! Escapees from St. Mary’s, Paddington: expectant father smoking, old lady wheeling herself in a wheelchair smoking, die-hard holding urine sack, blood sack, smoking. Everybody loves smokes. Everybody. Polish paper, Turkish paper, Arabic, Irish, French, Russian, Spanish, News of the World. Unlock your (stolen) phone, buy a battery pack, a lighter pack, a perfume pack, sunglasses, three for a fiver, a life-size porcelain tiger, gold taps. Casino! Everybody believes in destiny. Everybody. It was meant to be. It was just not meant to be. Deal or no deal? TV screens in the TV shop. TV cable, computer cable, audiovisual cables, I give you good price, good price, Leaflets, call abroad 4 less, learn English, eyebrow wax, Falun Gong, have you accepted Jesus as your personal call plan? Everybody loves fried chicken. Everybody. Bank of Iraq, Bank of Egypt, Bank of Libya, Empty cabs on account of the sunshine. Boom-boxes just because. Lone Italian, loafers, lost, looking for Mayfair. A hundred and one ways to take cover: the complete black tent, the facial grid, back of the head, Louis Vuitton-stamped, Gucci-stamped, yellow lace, attached to sunglasses, hardly on at all, striped, candy pink; paired with tracksuits, skin-tight jeans, summer dresses, blouses, vests, gypsy skirts, flares. Bearing no relation to the debates in the papers, in parliament. Everybody loves sandals, Everybody. Birdsong! Lowdown dirty shopping arcade to mansion flats to an Englishman’s home in his castle. Open top, soft-top, drive-by hip hop. Watch the money pile up. Holla! Security lights, security gates, security walls, security trees, Tudor, Modernist, postwar, prewar, stone pineapples, stone lions, stone eagles. Face east and dream of Regent’s Park, of St, John’s Wood. The Arabs, the Israelis, the Russians, the Americans: here united by the furnished penthouse, the private clinic. If we pay enough, if we squint, Kilburn need not exist. Free meals. English as a second language. Here is the school where they stabbed the headmaster. Here is the Islamic Center of England opposite the Queen’s Arms. Walk down the middle of this, you referee, you! Everybody loves the Grand National. Everybody. Is it really only April? And they’re off!”
How great is that?