There are times when I walk into a bookstore without a clear direction on which kind of book I’m looking for. No particular title or genre. Sometimes I just want the shelf to surprise me. Prior to reading Swing Time, Zadie Smith was a name I knew was praised in the literary scene and when my eyes landed on the book I just grabbed it and trusted that the fuss about the author would be proven in the book.
The narrator is the daughter of a Jamaican mother who’d rather educate herself and move towards a political career than to fully be a mother and a white father who doesn’t seem to live up to his wife’s intellectual expectations. The narrator becomes friends with another bi-racial girl Tracy, and they both share a passion for dancing, although Tracy actually knows how to dance.
The narrator becomes an assistant to pop star Aimee, whose music she and Tracy had taped a provocative video to when they were teenagers. The story moves from London to Africa where Aimee meets this African guy whom she wants to organise a visa for so that he can live with her. The narrator, who is an assistant, has an affair with the same guy and eventually, Aimee finds out. Things don’t end well for her and on top of that, she discovers her mother’s dying. Before her mother dies she tells her to adopt her childhood friend Tracy’s kids.
At some point, on page two-hundred-and-something, I was still unsure of what I was reading about. I did, however, finish the book but it was one of the books that taught me that if you’re not enjoying the story and not getting it, put it down. It’s okay to put the book down and start another one.
I didn’t get Swing Time. I tried to follow the narration as much as I could but I was constantly getting lost. However, I think I kept on going because of her style of writing. The story was not working for me but the style, the skill to play with words and construct beautiful prose, was on point.
I have a copy of her other praised book White Teeth so maybe that might be a different experience. We’ll see.