Swing Time – Zadie Smith

Zadie Smith is, in my opinion, one of the most talented British writers currently working. This novel was one of the emotional texts I have read in recent years. Set in London, New York and West Africa, it tells the story of two childhood friends and their lives over three decades. They meet at a dance class in the 80s and are linked by their mixed race heritage, over time this becomes the only thing linking them as their lives diverge. These two characters allow Smith to explore the nature of friendship, fame and family. Swing-Time.png

These two girls are very different in their journey through life; one being incredibly talented, but is more exploratory in her lifestyle, being sexual active at a young age, drinking and eventually not fulfilling her talent as a dancer. The other, less talented but more sensible, and mentally stable, becomes the successful one of the pair. She graduates from a position at a music television company to working for a famous pop star. Alongside these two main characters there is a cast of characters that help build the complexities of this novel. The two mothers, one a proud black politician, the other the white alcoholic. Two fathers; one absent and in prison, the other a post man who appears to give in to his wife’s wills. These four characters are used by Smith to show that although the two girls are similar in their ethnicity they are from very different families.

The story is told in a non-linear way, using the narrators memories to show her personal history. Smith actually starts the story at the end, and we have to read through to find out how the narrator has got to the position she is now in. This novel is extremely powerful, it gives an honest account of a childhood friendship, whilst also showing that we have to work at all of our relationships. Throughout the novel Smith touches on a number of the social issues of this age, each main character I assumed to be a millennial, and share the concerns of this generation of people.

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