Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.
Last year I was one of the very last people to read Zadie Smith’s White Teeth. It was just so-so for me – I felt like I was missing a crucial connection to a book that everyone raves about.
Still, I’ve been drawn to Smith all year. If I see her name mentioned or a photo of her, I have to click to see what’s up. There’s just something about Zadie Smith.
So when I got the chance to read her new novel, Swing Time, I was up for it.
Swing Time follows the lives of two girls – their friendship begins when they are the only two brown girls in their Saturday morning dancing class. One, Tracey, has talent; the other, our unnamed narrator, does not but is an avid student of all dance. Their lives intersect throughout their childhood, until it ends suddenly in their early twenties. For the one, that friendship echoes through her adult life, while Tracey finds her way onto the stage while struggling within her adult life.
Eventually our narrator finds a job as a personal assistant to Aimee, a pop star turned icon. When Aimee turns her attentions to philanthropy in Africa, her assistant finds herself spending more time in the small village, where the rhythm of life is completely different to anything she knows.
Again, Smith is ambitious in the scope of her novel. Swing Time examines race, friendship, mothers and daughters, fame, poverty, dance, ambition and education. At times Smith’s prose is unbearably beautiful. I’m constantly in awe of her talent.
(You knew it was coming right?)
I still had a hard time connecting to this book. I feel like I should have been a wreck reading this but I just wasn’t. Like with White Teeth, there was no sense of anticipation about coming back to this book, there was no joy in the experience. It started out strong for me but ended up in so many different directions that I found it hard to hold onto anything that would make this one stand out for me.
No doubt I’m the lone voice of dissonance.
While I was reading this, I ended up listening to an old episode of Lena Dunham’s podcast, Women of the Hour. The subject of the episode was Work and who should appear as a guest? Zadie Smith. And I fell a little bit in love with her.
But still not enough to fall in love with this book.