Book Review: Swing Time

Author: Zadie Smith

Publisher: Penguin Books

ISBN: 9780670069040

Genre: Fiction

Recommendation: Meh

Zadie Smith tricked me into reading Swing Time. The prologue that begins the book narrates the nameless protagonist hiding out in a loft because of some undefined crime, with extra measures of security taken on her behalf. The scene is mysterious and fraught with tension, and had me flipping pages to see what’s next. That is how she got me to read through 453 pages, but the juice wasn’t worth the squeeze.

Swing Time follows the nameless, self-absorbed protagonist as she navigates childhood with a controlling (and slightly sociopathic) best friend, Tracey, then adulthood, when she works as the personal assistant for Aimee, a famous superstar. The protagonist travels between England and America and an unspecified country in Africa, noting but seeming to not care about inequality and the different ways blackness happens in specific geographies. The book involved unchallenged white saviorism, unacknowledged privilege, and sensationally beautiful pictures of poverty. Her life is messy, but not entertainingly so. When the book finally gets to the the scene promised in the prologue, the situation seems cheap and unearned, and I found myself repeating, “…dassit?”

Swing Time could have been at least 200 pages shorter, and the sections into which it was divided seemed more like a crutch than an integral part of the narrative. I didn’t like as much as I hoped I would. Zadie Smith’s writing is always beautiful, but the content of her musings sits better in her non-fiction works than her fiction.

But I will say, if you liked Zadie Smith’s other works of fiction, you will like Swing Time.