Thursday, June 29, 2017

Book Review: Swing Time

Last week I read and completed Swing Time by Zadie Smith. This was my first Zadie Smith novel and I think this was a wonderful introduction to her work. Based on reviews I've read, it seems like this isn't the book for everyone, and for readers who have read more of Smith's work, it may not be her best. I really enjoyed my time reading this novel, though, and thought that this would be the perfect opportunity to let you know what I liked it so much!

Swing Time chronicles the life of our narrator, whose name is not revealed throughout the duration of the novel, from early childhood all the way through adulthood. Our narrator lives her life extremely interested in dance and performing and aspires to dance professionally, but her mother who is more of an advocate for a traditional education path and hopes that our narrator pursues a life of advocacy and politics, thinking that is how our narrator will make a positive impact on this world, does not approve of our narrator's dreams. Our narrator's childhood friend, Tracey, however, is encouraged to pursue the dance and performance path by her family, and eventually the two go their separate ways as they grow older and find new directions in life.

Later in life, our narrator finds herself working in the entertainment industry as the assistant to an Australian pop star, Aimee, who is someone our narrator admired while growing up. Aimee wants to open a school for girls in West Africa, and our narrator finds herself flying between London, New York, and the site of the new school to help not only with the establishment of the "Illuminated Academy for Girls", but with every aspect of Aimee's life, while totally neglecting her own. The novel switches between our narrator's childhood and her adult life as Aimee's assistant, until the story eventually meets in the middle, creating a full chronological story.

This is a story I really enjoyed reading. While the pacing of this book is fairly slow (this is definitely a novel you need to take your time with in order to fully appreciate it), I really enjoyed returning to it time after time and reading about how our narrator's life progressed while connecting the dots of the storyline. I can definitely see why people would not like this book - it is an extremely slow burn, and many have criticized it for being a bit too wordy, not really saying too much with the massive amount of writing within the pages. I would have to say I disagree with that. I feel like every word of this book played an important role in the telling of the overall story, whether that role was small or large. This is a book that I think you need to have a lot of patience to read, and something that you need to dive into while ignoring the rest of the world for a while. I don't think you can really appreciate it any other way.

As I said at the beginning of this review, this was my first Zadie Smith read, so I don't have a lot to go off of to judge her writing as a whole. However, what I really appreciated about Swing Time was that it felt like Smith really trusted me as a reader to figure things out without her having to point out in great detail what was going out. When writers are able to make me feel this way when I am reading their books, it is always something that I admire. In many parts of this book, Smith showed the reader what was going on instead of telling us. (Isn't that something they always teach in writing class? Show not tell? Or is that theatre?) This is one of the few books that I noticed that was what was happening and I loved that about Swing Time. Smith trusts the intelligence of her readers with this work and I truly appreciated that while reading this novel.

In addition to enjoying Smith's writing in this work, I really enjoyed spending time with the characters. Each character, I think, was fairly believable. Everyone had their own complex and unique flaws, personalities, opinions, motivations, and aspirations. The way each character intertwined in one another's lives seemed very realistic to me. The way Smith presented each person really worked in my mind which is so important in such a character driven story like this. Having characters that seemed like they could be people in anyone's life really made the story as rich and layered as it was and that was something that needed to happen in order for this story to work for me.

While this story is very much so the story of our narrators life, there are so many important themes woven throughout the pages. You'll get themes of love and marriage, money and status, fame and success, race and cultural appropriation, family and friendship, and all of these these are framed in a juxtaposition of wealth and poverty and what that means in different cultures. Smith presented these themes in a really interesting way that you can't really sum up in a matter of a few words (it's really something you have to read yourself to see), but each theme is prominent in almost every chapter of this book which made for a really rich reading experience.

I don't think this book is for everyone and I definitely understand the criticism of Swing Time. As I've said a few times in this review, you really need to be in a place where you're ready for a slower read and have the patience to let the story unfold before you instead of trying to rush through it. If you can put yourself in that place, I think you can really enjoy this book and appreciate it for what it is.

Overall, I gave this book...
4/5 Stars!

I'm definitely looking forward to reading more of Zadie Smith's work in the future. 
If you have any suggestions of something you've enjoyed of hers, let me know in the comments! :)

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