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Non 1001 Book Review: Swing Time Zadie Smith


I was hoping to get to this book so that Book Worm and I could post a joint review. Unfortunately life got in the way and I stunningly have read nothing in the last week. I have been working out some details for our next reading challenge so stay tuned to learn more about that (coming very soon). I’ve never been a huge fan of Zadie Smith’s work. I think she is brilliant and clearly very intelligent but I’ve never really connected with her novels. Keep reading to see Book Worm’s review of Zadie Smith’s newest book coming out this month. 

Swing Time by Zadie Smith
Published in: 2016
Reviewed by: Book Worm
Rating: ★★★★★
Find it here: Swing Time

This ARC was provided by Penguin Books UK (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis from Goodreads: An ambitious, exuberant new novel moving from north west London to West Africa, from the multi-award-winning author of White Teeth and On Beauty.

Two brown girls dream of being dancers – but only one, Tracey, has talent. The other has ideas: about rhythm and time, about black bodies and black music, what constitutes a tribe, or makes a person truly free. It’s a close but complicated childhood friendship that ends abruptly in their early twenties, never to be revisited, but never quite forgotten, either…

Dazzlingly energetic and deeply human, Swing Time is a story about friendship and music and stubborn roots, about how we are shaped by these things and how we can survive them. Moving from North-West London to West Africa, it is an exuberant dance to the music of time.

Book Worm’s Thoughts: I absolutely loved this book. From the very first page, I was drawn into the complicated life of the narrator, a mixed raced girl growing up in London in the 80s. The book contained many references to pop culture that were totally familiar to me (although there was a craze at the school that thankfully bypassed my school days) and will be to anyone who lived through the 80s. The central storyline also features a fictionalized account of the morality of foreign intervention in Africa that was based on real historical events.

This book is fantastic in that it features several strong female characters (strong doesn’t always mean good) who don’t limit themselves because they are female, or African, or white, or mixed raced. These are women who do what needs to be done to get where they want to be, even if society criticizes them for it. It focusses on female relationships especially those between mothers and daughters and friends. In fact the male characters are very much in the background. It’s also fantastic because the love and fascination with dancing (I love dancing), music, and performance are clear on every page.

The relationship between the narrator and Tracey is intense but aren’t all friendships that way when we are young? Although they are best friends, they are also each other’s most bitter competition. Both girls live in a world that is part fantasy and part reality. While Tracey is the one who appears to have it all, she is also the one with the most to hide and to lose. When you realize what life for her is actually like, it is easier to forgive her actions.

The story switches from the present day backwards and forwards in time with the narrator facing the consequences of an action she has taken.  As we move backward and forward in time, we learn what has occurred to bring all the characters to bring them to the point they are at in the story when we first meet them. This slow unveiling of all the clues, that eventually tied together, really added to the story for me.

The narrator herself remains un-named throughout the story and I believe this is a clever trick by Smith as the book is essentially about the narrator discovering who she really is — something she is still working towards when the book ends.

Favourite quotes: (I have so many I will only share a few):

“It was the kind of note you might get from a spiteful seven-year-old girl with a firm idea of justice. And of course that – if you can ignore the passage of time – is exactly what it was.”

“I saw the seven, eight, nine and ten year-old in her, the teenager, the little woman. All of those versions of Tracey were reaching across the years of the church hall to ask me a question:”

“And so we got something like the truth, quite like it, but not exactly.”

“I knew the Tracey who wasted an afternoon on South Pacific and I loved that girl.”

Who would like this book? I would recommend this to those who like books with strong female characters and those who enjoy a slow, more meandering pace to their stories. The only reason I didn’t finish this book in one day was that my kindle ran out of battery and by 1am I could no longer stay awake to finish it. Needless to say, as soon as I woke up, the first thing I did was finish the book.

Want to try it for yourself? You can find a copy here: Swing Time

We want to hear from you! Have you read this book? What did you think? Do you plan to read this book? This was my first Zadie Smith book. Jen has read two others and didn’t love them. Do you generally like Zadie Smith’s work?

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Thank you for sharing this engaging review.

    Liked by 1 person

    November 7, 2016
  2. Tracy S #

    I was hoping to skip this one, but now it’s on the teetering TBR! I liked White Teeth, but really didn’t care for On Beauty, so we will have to see.

    Liked by 1 person

    November 7, 2016
  3. I can’t be bothered with Zadie Smith. White Teeth is one of the few books I’ve started, not enjoyed, given up on and never gone back to. Like Jen, I can see she’s clever, but I found the small amount of her writing I experienced too pleased with how clever it was.


    November 13, 2016

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Our top ten books of 2016 | The Reader's Room
  2. 2017 Man Booker longlist: Swing Time | The Reader's Room

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