Zadie Smith’s latest novel Swing Time is essentially a story about friendships, and how they can make and break you.
What’s it about?
Here’s the blurb from the publisher, Penguin:
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, 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…
Dazzlingly energetic and deeply human, Swing Time is a story about friendship and music and stubborn roots, about how we are shaped by these things and how we can survive them. Moving from North-West London to West Africa, it is an exuberant dance to the music of time.
What’s good about it?
Smith’s writing is as powerful as ever in this book. She is able to knock you sideways with a line so beautifully insightful that you’ll be pondering your life, or its seemingly insignificant features, differently thereafter.
This book is about friendship at its core. The relationship between the unnamed narrator and Tracey is a sublime depiction of teenage life, and one that particularly resonated with me as a girl going through those experiences at around the same time as they’re portrayed in the novel.
The giving and taking nature of friendships – and the challenge of maintaining the balance between the two – is well-rounded and deftly delivered, and definitely the strongest part of the novel. Smith summed up the focus of her narrative at the end of the second part:
Was this the general rule? Did all friendships – all relations – involve this discreet and mysterious exchange of qualities, this exchange of power?
It’s that exchange that Smith explores so well.
What’s not so good about it?
When the novel moved into the narrator’s later life, it lost me.
She’s an assistant to a demanding and selfish pop star, there’s an attempt to set up a foundation to support African communities and various misdemeanours along the way. For me, this narrative was confused and disparate, lacking the clarity and definition of the earlier parts.
Fans of Smith’s previous books will love this. However, while the writing impressed me and the young female friendships affected me emotionally, the book as a whole didn’t work for me.
Swing Time is published on 15 November.