London Falling

Two novels by major voices explore the city's darker side

Approximately 219 million Americans recently watched 5,535 hours of London Olympics coverage, but the London they saw isn't the only London. There are other, more complex, less telegenic Londons lurking just out of shot. Zadie Smith grew up in northwest London, which gives her new novel, NW, its title. Martin Amis' Lionel Asbo: State of England is set in a London borough called Diston. Diston is fictional, but otherwise the two areas have a lot in common: vertiginous income disparities, multiple cultures and ethnicities and a distinct lack of Olympic-caliber dressage venues.

NW is Smith's fourth novel, and it's an ambitious...

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