‘Swing Time’ – Zadie Smith

London, April 2018


Two mixed-race children want to be dancers and become friends. As they grow up, Tracey, the one you know from early on will be ‘trouble’ goes one way, and the unnamed narrator goes another.

To cut a long story short, by the early 1990s the narrator has landed a job with YTV and is sent to West Africa to support the building of a school by an internationally acclaimed musician.

The story cuts between the narrator’s childhood with Tracey and the current story set in West Africa, covering questionable adoptions, pre-adolescent erotic dancing, overdosing, scapegoating…and more.


I enjoyed this to begin with, but around the time that it began to cut between the Tracey stories and the Aimee stories I started to get a bit tired of it. If the intention was to have the narrator nameless so as to obscure her identity even more between the powerhouse characters of Aimee and Tracey then that was achieved quite well.

I’ve tried a couple of Smith’s novels and for whatever reason, I can’t get along with them at all. There’s a sense sometimes as I read them (as a mixed-race Londoner) that the author writes from perfected literary observations rather than experience, which creates a type of emptiness. It didn’t help here that the story was loooooong and that the events of the novel often verged on soap opera, with the literary style dampening the drama leading to everything feeling a little…silly.

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