My second epic adventure with Zadie Smith following my initiation with On Beauty in January. I adored On Beauty and felt a little worried that a second effort wouldn’t live up to my expectations. I had also been silly enough to read a couple of reviews along the lines that Zadie Smith should write less and say more. So I was nervous and perhaps didn’t have high hopes! Thankfully, thankfully, had nothing to be worried about. I totally understand what people mean by write less and say more because Smith writes a lot of detail and doesn’t seem to be force feeding you with points, with moral lessons or life instructions, like some other books I’ve read. Personally if I want that sort of book I buy a book that was written for that purpose. A piece of fiction is just telling a story. It should be subtle. The author doesn’t necessarily have an opinion, they’ve just telling a story. I’ve read that Zadie Smith became an author to save her feeling that she was sleep-walking through life and I take that to mean that what she writes comes from observation. She watches people around her, people in the media, she listens and she tells a story around all of that. You might interpret it in one way, she another. But that really is what I love about Zadie Smith, she just writes and I just read, submerge myself in the world she has created and then miss it dreadfully when I have to leave. Exactly what happened to me when I finished On Beauty and exactly what happened to me here. Zadie Smith presents a complete world, complete characters and a complete story but in a snap shot of people’s lives.
In Swing Time we meet two girls who are taking dance lessons. The book follows one of them throughout, although we don’t know her name. We follow her through childhood, early adulthood then into her early 30’s. She’s not a dancer but she loves dancing. She is a big fan of the old musicals and watches old videos of them throughout her childhood. Her friend, Tracey, truly is a dancer, she has a natural rhythm. Both girls are of mixed race heritage, the narrator with a wonderfully strong and charismatic beautiful black mother and a white father whilst Tracey has a white mother and a black father. Both girls are drawn to each other because of this as they are outsiders in each ethnic group they come from. The narrator ends up working for an international pop star, Aimee, who she has loved since childhood. We follow stays in New York and London as well as trips to Africa where Aimee is funding a girls school and also adopts a baby to add to her clan of children.
Oh my goodness I loved this book. I loved the experience of reading this book and just being there for a few brief days. This is a recent novel by Zadie Smith and I can say that she just gets better and better. I am absolutely a huge huge fan. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Though I will say if you prefer a Matt Haig offering, a list of life instructions in a quick, slap in the face style, short novel, this book might not be for you. You might find it too subtle with no obvious lessons. Or you might enjoy wondering if Aimee is based on Madonna (surely?) and just like living in that world for a few days, like me. It is unlikely I will ever open a girls school in Africa but I enjoyed reading about what money can’t do!