Set over a number of decades and globe trotting between London, New York and West Africa, this is the story of a girl trying to find her way, surrounded by strong opinionated women. Can she break from the pack and be her own self? And if she does break free, who does she want to be?
As a young girl growing up in the 1980s in London, there is a lot to be learnt about relationships, gender, race and class. And just when she thought she knew it all, she ventures to West Africa in her 30s and realises she doesn’t know a thing at all.
One trick of Smith’s that I particularly liked was the fact the main character is unidentified; we know what she thinks, who her family and friends are, where she goes, everything viewed from her eyes, but we don’t know her name. And I really liked that. It allows each reader to really identify with particular events; rather than slipping your feet into the shoes of the main character, it’s as if the main character is slipping into your own shoes.
Weaved into this story are a number of smaller messages. One that resonated, was the influence your group of friends have in how quick you grow up. The main character is easily susceptible to copying her childhood friend; Tracey, no matter what the activity might be. Deep down the main character knows that what Tracey is doing is wrong and not appropriate for their age group, but yet she’s not strong enough to stand up to her friend. It was such a poignant moment when I read how the main character took advantage of Tracey being away from school, and spent time with others who acted like the young girls they were!
I can not fault Smith’s writing style, the story positively flows from the pages as beautifully as a memorable piece of music, the notes were all in the right places never falling too sharp or too flat. It’s an absorbing and intense read; not in the usual sense that I use intense, in the sense that there was so much jam-packed into this story, it required a high level of focus to truly appreciate.
My only niggle with this story relates to the huge volume of messages dotted about in the story. I came to the end of the book not really understanding what Smith wanted me to take away from the book, there was no clear driving message flowing through the book, other than perhaps, growing up? Many might argue that this is fine, but after reading Drift Stumble Fall so recently and finishing it with a wave of clarity, in what the author was driving with the plot; I really noticed that this was missing from Swing Time.
This is the first book, I have read by Zadie Smith and I now understand what all the fuss is about.
Who else has read her work? I would be interested to hear about her other books – as many of the quotes on this book identified this as ‘her best yet’.
Until next time, Chloé x