Hannah's Reviews > Swing Time

Swing Time by Zadie Smith
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bookshelves: arc, literary-fiction

I am conflicted: while the language is impressive and there were plenty of parts that I truly enjoyed immensely, the overall reading experience was uneven and a bit of a dissappointment for me. I was super pleased to receive an arc of this book as Zadie Smith is one of those authors whose work I have intended to get to at some point, sooner rather than later. Now I am not so sure anymore if this was the best way to start reading her.

"Swing Time" is a story told from the perspective of an unnamed mixed-race woman, both of her younger years and her intense friendship with Tracey, another of the mixed-race girls living at the estate she's growing up at and of her being in her mid-30s and working for a ficticious international pop-star with philanthropic plans of building a girls' school in West Africa. Threading through both timelines is her love for dance and her inability to find a place in the world (or even herself). As other reviewers have already noted, the parts with Aimee, the pop star, and the visits to Africa are by far not as interesting as her life before - and especially Tracey's life.

My main problem with the book was the main character. Even after spending more than 400 pages in her head, I am still not sure who she is and what she is like; however, this flatness of character might very well be intentional. The protagonist only ever defines herself in relation to other people: to Aimee, to her mother, and most of all to Tracey - that other girl so similar to her and still so different, with a trajectory so contrary to her own that there might not be a way for them to connect again. Nevertheless, that flatness bothered me and her naivety did not endear her to me - it rather proved how much her world revolved around herself and it made her a difficult protagonist to empathize with.

But at the same time, some of the secondary characters were fully fleshed out, flawed people that I would have loved to spend more time with. I enjoyed Tracey as a character and would have loved for her to be at the centre of the book (especially because the description made it sound like she would be). I loved the interactions the protagonist has with her mother; even though she is aggrevating as well their relationship felt real. It is in those scenes that Zadie Smith's tremendous talent shines and those are the reason why I am still overall glad to have read this book.

I received an arc curtesy of NetGalley and Penguin Books UK in exchange for an honest review. Thanks for that!
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Reading Progress

September 12, 2016 – Shelved
September 12, 2016 – Shelved as: to-read
September 12, 2016 – Shelved as: arc
November 27, 2016 – Started Reading
November 27, 2016 –
January 28, 2017 – Shelved as: literary-fiction
January 28, 2017 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-6 of 6 (6 new)

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Diane S ☔ Excellent review, Hannah and I felt much the same way about this book.

Hannah Thank you, Diane! I am kinda disappointed that I didn't enjoy this more..

Robyn Markow Read "White Teeth" it's her 1st book (& excellent as well)

Hannah Thanks for the recommendation, Robyn!

Constance Colding I agree with your review.

Hannah Thank you, Constance!

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