Nicotine

Nell Zink

Recent business school graduate Penny Baker has rebelled against her family her whole life—by being the conventional one. Her mother, Amalia, was a member of a South American tribe called the Kogi; her much older father, Norm, long ago attained cult-like deity status among a certain cohort of ageing hippies while operating a psychedelic ‘healing centre.’ And she’s never felt particularly close to her much older half-brothers from Norm’s previous marriage—one wickedly charming and obscenely rich (but mostly just wicked), one a photographer on a distant tropical island.

But all that changes when her father dies, and Penny inherits his childhood home in New Jersey. She goes to investigate the property and finds it not overgrown and abandoned, but rather occupied by a group of friendly anarchist squatters whom she finds unexpectedly charming, and who have renamed the property “Nicotine.” The Nicotine residents (united in defence of smokers’ rights) possess the type of passion and fervour Penny feels she’s desperately lacking, and the other squatter houses in the neighbourhood provide a sense of community she has never felt before. She soon moves into a nearby residence, becoming enmeshed in the political fervour and commitment of her fellow squatters.

As the Baker family’s lives begin to converge around the fate of the house now called Nicotine, Penny grows ever bolder and more desperate to protect it—and its residents—until a fateful night when a reckless confrontation between her old family and her new one changes everything.

Nell Zink exquisitely captures the clash between Baby-Boomer idealism and Millennial pragmatism, between the have-nots and want-mores, in a riotous yet tender novel that brilliantly encapsulates our time.

Reviews of Nicotine

  • ‘Hard as nails and soft as tears, this is Zink’s best yet’ Monocle

    ‘There’s a liveliness in Zink’s prose, an exuberance that carries the reader… Zink writes with a joyful recklessness – the sense that maybe she did write this novel in three weeks – that makes her one of the freshest talents around.’ Joe Dunthorne, The Guardian

    ‘Nicotine is another hilarious and generally blurb-defying display of off-the-wall firepower. Zink has enormous fun with her cast of clueless, horny, hippy activists, but she’s the real anarchic spirit. It’s weirdly affecting, totally addictive and exhilaratingly unlike anything else you’ll read’ Daily Mail

    ‘Nicotine is a fitting title. Her sentences are like cigarettes: the first few are dizzying and not always pleasant, but before you know it, you’re hooked. Nicotine is a very funny book that has very serious things to say about the hypocrisies of millennial attitudes to love and power and desire.’ The Daily Telegraph*****

    ‘Nicotine is addictive … she combines the fiercely funny with whipsmart originality to dizzying effect’ Stylist

    ‘Nicotine proves Zink’s distinctive verve as mesmerising as ever’ Independent

    ‘Zink’s prose is an always fascinating instrument, one as flitting and amorphous as the attention span of her characters … Her sentences can stun, perfectly nailing a situation or emotion’ The Spectator

    ‘The extended description of Norm’s death is full of persuasive, unflinching detail; Zink takes time and care, to powerful effect’ Sunday Times

    ‘Deadly dry comedy. Zink’s unconventionality is refreshing’ The Times, Books of the Year

    ‘She’s a startlingly original voice, playfully wise, sometimes disturbing’ Big Issue North

    ‘Zink is an audacious writer … she always creates vibrant, off-kilter worlds for her characters to inhabit’ The Times

    ‘Nicotine is a whirlwind of a book …Zink has a great gift for ventriloquism. Her work brims with funny dialogue … rollicking fun for the 300 or so pages that it lasts’ TLS

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