Swing Time – Zadie Smith (Hamish Hamilton 2016)

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I can still vividly recall how blown away  I was with Zadie Smith’s debut “White Teeth” (2000) and yet I have not got around to reading anything else by her since then.  From the moment I read the blurb for this I knew that I was going to put that right. Central to the novel is a tale of friendship and rivalry between the unnamed narrator and Tracey, two girls who lived near to one another and attended the same dance class in the early 80’s.  This leads to an obsession with Hollywood musicals and the glamour of dance.  These unlikely Astaire fans charm you into the story in what is an outstanding first third.

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The girls take different directions with Tracey heading to the West End and the narrator as PA for a Madonna-esque pop star who becomes involved in charitable work (building a school for girls) in rural West Africa.  In these years the narrator loses her spark, there is the connection between charity and celebrity which feels right to be explored and is a very contemporary theme but pop star Aimee does not really come alive for me, and you do feel that perhaps this is Smith’s intention.  I particularly liked the times when the narrator’s life crosses with Tracey rather than the regular visits to Africa on Aimee’s behalf becoming more involved in the life of the school.  At home the narrator’s mother is an issue-driven politician who adds much to the richness of the novel .  Throughout the book runs the undercurrent of the thrill of dance and that was something I very much appreciated and felt that Smith could have made even more explicit.  The book works very well but doesn’t scale the dizzy heights of “ White Teeth” but it will be great to have Zadie Smith in the Bestseller lists once again.

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fourstars

Swing Time is published by Hamish Hamilton on 15th November 2016.  Many thanks t0 the publishers and Netgalley for my advance review copy.

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