I apologise in advance (more or less) for what is going to come across as a snobbish and patronising review. But what I find most perplexing about this book are actually other readers' reviews which I have read here and there and which seem to spectacularly miss all possible points by describing this book as full-on experimental postmodern literature and therefore (according to each particular reader's taste and inclination) either generally pretentious or a new masterpiece in the history of English literature (I swear somewhere I saw mentions of Joyce - JOYCE - and Mrs Dalloway). Both views are, I think, unfair towards Zadie Smith. I feel it's my duty at this point to state the obvious: this is not a difficult book to read. It does use some unconventional techniques (yes, one of the chapters is divided into short subchapters - but so what?) but the narrative is remarkably linear and fluid (not necessarily a good or a bad thing in and of itself). If anything, I think it could have been more daring and experimented more with unconventional narrative techniques, as the subject matter - contemporary metropolitan life in a diverse and complicated city like London - lends itself remarkably well to this.
Having made this preliminary remark, I think NW succeeds in portraying contemporary metropolitan London life, and in giving it voice, in making it speak - literally so, I'd say - by casting a set of characters revolving around an estate in Willesden and their past history; it's a human story of people growing up and finding, and losing, their way; and it's a London story, about negotiating one's racial and cultural identity in a chaotic and ruthless place where it's hard to get out of racial stereotypes and preconceived notions. I found the book honest in its ambiguity about its characters' choices, and their confusion, happiness and disillusionment.
This 'confusion' does come across also, intentionally, in the structure of the novel, which is indeed fluid, and resistant to conventional narrative strategies (some of the characters enter the story at some point and don't necessarily come back into it, thus defying your average reader's expectations - mine included). I found this remarkably liberating and convincing, an attempt to break free from the rules of the game of literature, so to speak. And it's because it is so innovative and remarkable in this respect that I can't help feeling it could have been even more daring, even more experimental and out there; that it could have not only stretched the boundaries of conventional narrative, but broken and reinvented them. But maybe that's not what Zadie Smith wanted to do there. Or maybe, in her own way, that's what she's done.