Read Along: Swing Time by Zadie Smith (March 2017)

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Well, the month of March zoomed by pretty quickly! Did anyone else read Swing Time by Zadie Smith? I did and thought it was pretty good!

This book tackles some pretty major themes – rivalry, race, feminism, poverty, family, fame and more, and while I was captivated during the reading, in the end I felt like the story wasn’t as cohesive as I would have liked. The unnamed narrator takes us through her childhood with friend Tracey and their love of dance, and into her adulthood as personal assistant to a famous pop-star who is building a school in West Africa. I have always loved the way Zadie writes; she shines a light on human nature and makes every little moment seem grander, somehow. Something as insignificant as dropping a tea bag into hot water is presented as the most poetic moment possible. But the larger picture of this novel got lost. Not naming the narrator is an interesting approach and honestly I didn’t even notice it until the end when I tried to remember her name and pulled up a blank, but I felt that in general the narrator was disconnected from the reader. She wasn’t particularly likeable, but not unpleasant either. She just felt slightly flat to me, like some of the other characters, particularly in the scenes set in West Africa.

I really enjoyed the scenes from the narrator and Tracey’s childhood friendship; two girls united by their love of dance, but Tracey is the one that goes on to be accepted into dance school while the narrator’s flat feet left her with little chance of a career. These scenes with the focus on female friendship and identity were very strongly written. I also really enjoyed the narrator’s activist mother and how she propelled the novel into political territory with her dialogue. Overall I felt this novel was dazzling, but there was also some slight of hand at work; the beautifully constructed sentences sometimes distracted me from the fact that very little was actually happening. Of course the narrative flow (which bounced from past to present, London UK to West Africa) is just a very small piece of the puzzle Zadie crafted; this book could be deeply analyzed for deeper meaning and secret communications which makes my review here seem very superficial. Like all of her work, I read it voraciously and while I definitely didn’t get the full message intended, I surely enjoyed the read. I’m slightly conflicted in that I have such a crush on Zadie’s work I want to give it a pass, but if I don’t look critically at what I am consuming I feel I am passing up an opportunity for learning. In some ways I was disappointed because I didn’t come away with much (it’s always nice to learn something from each book we read) but I loved the writing itself. I wish I was a little more emotionally engaged, but hey maybe that’s my problem. This book felt like a 3.5/5 for me.

Did anyone else read this? What are your thoughts?? Did you feel like we were meant to pick sides between Tracey and the narrator? Female friends are often pitted against each other by the patriarchy, did you feel these girls were destined to fall out and grow apart because we are conditioned to compete with our female friends rather than support them? What is the consensus on the ending; too abrupt or the perfect image to close the curtain on?

For the month of April I’m going to read The Break by Katherena Vermette. Please join me! See you May 1st for the next read along post ❀

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