Review of ‘Swing Time’ by Zadie Smith

A complex, thought-provoking novel which kept me reading on, despite being nearly 500 pages and tending towards giant paragraphs!

The story is partly about the friendship (if that’s what it is) between ‘two brown girls’ who first meet at a dance class. Tracey and the unnamed narrator. I only realised part of the way through that her name is not given. She is uncertain of her roles and identity so this seems to match her character. The story is also about several topics which are massive on their own but somehow the author manages to weave them together: international development, colonialism and poverty tourism; cultural appropriation, tokenism and political activism; the complexities of family life in contemporary London; how power and money, or the lack of it, affect people’s actions. Oh, and there’s a lot about dancing, too. This does sound like too much to be addressed in one novel but it did make for an illuminating experience and although at times it was worthy, stopped short of being unattractively preachy. The chronology of the story is somewhat jumbled but all is brought together neatly by the end.

Book cover of Swing Time by Zadie Smith

One of the reviews quoted in the book’s jacket flap describes it as ‘clever, funny, confident and kind’. I would agree that it’s clever and that the writing style is confident even though the narrator isn’t. As for funny, no, although occasionally there is the humour of absurd situations. The kindness is interesting, because there are characters who behave terribly to our narrator and yet she always examines this, in hindsight, from a psychological perspective or with an understanding of how their backgrounds and situations inform their behaviour.

This was my first Zadie Smith and I’m intrigued to read more of her work.

First published in 2016.

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3 thoughts on “Review of ‘Swing Time’ by Zadie Smith”

  1. I read Smith’s WHITE TEETH ages ago and liked it but tried other books of hers and couldn’t get into them. This one sounds interesting–especially the dance element. Thanks for the review. (Also, I find it common for dust jacket copy and blurbs to say a book is funny when it isn’t. For me to call a book funny I really have to lol–not the occasional smirk-inducing comment by the narrator. That’s “clever.”)

    1. I should really read White Teeth. I think you might like Swing Time šŸ™‚ I wonder if professional reviewers have a different conception to the rest of us about what is actually funny! The reader has to at least chuckle for a book to be funny.

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