Swing Time (Zadie Smith)

I feel like “finally” is a word to describe how I feel about finishing Swing Time by Zadie Smith. I started it a while back, with great expectations and then found myself struggling to read more than fifty pages in one sitting for the first half of the 453 pages. I was a little disappointed.

Two brown girls dream of being dancers–but only one, Tracey, has talent. The other has ideas: about rhythm and time, about black bodies and black music, about what constitutes a tribe, or makes a person truly free. It’s a close but complicated childhood friendship that ends abruptly in their early twenties, never to be revisited, but never quite forgotten, either.

Blurb from Goodreads

Having not read other Zadie Smith’s, I can’t say what was writing style and what was a feature of this book. For me, I overwhelmingly felt that Smith was trying to be a little too “literary”. I felt like things were disconnected, and while there were some amazing social commentaries going on about race, gender, class, colonialism, and capitalism, they weren’t connected very well. Tracey and Aimee both seemed to be at the centre, and I just couldn’t work out what the point of the novel was, beyond these social commentaries. I liked the criticisms about money being thrown at problems with little thought, and how Aimee’s attention is easily swayed – but it felt like there were too many themes being explored in not enough detail so things were skated over where they could have been an entire book in their own right.

I liked that it seemed to centre around dancing, there was a lot of dancing. I thought the descriptions were wonderful and it was beautifully written, but I couldn’t help but feel, for the most part, that there was this big grand Point that I had failed to grasp and I was waiting at the station when the train had already left. It meant that I took a very long break in the middle. I felt no emotional connection to what was happening in this book, it was all just a collection of things but it didn’t seem to connect.

I will say that I found the second half more engaging than the first half. it might have been that the disconnected timeline was starting to make more sense, or that I’d had a long break and was coming back with fresh eyes, or it might have been my sheer determination to finish it. I was in London to see a show, I wasn’t feeling well enough to go walking, so I sat in various locations and read until I finished Swing Time at about midnight on the train home. Either way, I finished the second half in one day. Still no idea what the grand point was.

I cannot, and will not deny that the narrative was beautiful. But I can’t say I enjoyed reading it. It felt like it was trying to be too “literary” or something similar. And even at the end, I couldn’t work out why that particular story needed to be told, which was incredibly disappointing. I think, on balance, my overwhelming opinion is a bit meh. This book tries to do too much, and in doing so, doesn’t do much at all.

I am trying to ensure this doesn’t affect my chances of reading other Zadie Smith novels, so if you have any recommendations for which book of hers I should try next, please let me know!



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