My First Zadie Smith Reading Experience

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, about 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.

This is an update on my Female Voices Reading Challenge!  If you need a refresher on my Female Voices Reading Challenge follow this LINK. Zadie Smith has always been an author that I have been curious about.  Along with five novels she also has a handful of essay collections.  I thought that my reading challenge was the perfect push to get me to finally read Zadie Smith.  I chose to start with Swing Time because it was her most recent novel (published in 2016) and I already had a copy.  I found it for a steal in a second hand book store right after I had established my reading challenge.  Aside from being a great bargain the dust jacket is a bold yellow.  I cannot say no to that!

I had already decided to read Swing Time at some time in 2018.  I decided to read it now in April because one of my favorite bookish podcasts will be discussing it on April 24th.  It felt like the universe was telling me to read it.  So I committed myself to reading in time for the April 24th episode.

After saying all of that it is now time to reveal my thoughts on Swing Time.  I did not like this book.  In fact,I actually feel quite comfortable saying that I hated this book.  Yep.  I hated this book.  This book is 453 pages long.  This is typical for a Zadie Smith novel.  For me and my HUGE stack of books that are waiting for me to read, that’s alot of reading time spent on a book that I was not enjoying.  However, I was committed because I kept thinking that it was going to get better.  As I got to the 300 page mark I realized that it was not going to improve.  At that point it made no sense to give up so I finished it.

My primary hang up with this book is that I while I am preparing a review of sorts I have absolutely no idea what the point of this novel is.  I honestly am at a loss to even share the premise of it. The basic description that you read at the beginning of this is conflicting to me because I feel like that was not the book that I read.  Yes the girls’ friendship begins in a dance class and grows into an appreciation of old Fred Astaire films; especially Swing Time.  However that is pretty much the extent of dance being a focal point.  One of the girls, Tracey, does go on to a brief career of a theater dancer but as it stated the friendship ends in their twenties.

The other big issue that I had with this novel is how it was organized.  It flips back and forth from the narrator’s childhood to present time. Actually  present time represents  roughly ten years after the friendship ends.  I found this time flipping to take away from my fully engaging and enjoying the story.  I found the back and forth to be clunky.  The transition between past and present were not seamless in my opinion.  By the time I hit the midway point I was frustrated and annoyed by the flip flopping.

I was in no way connected to the characters.  Honestly, is the narrator even given a name?  That is a very good question because if there is….it is completely lost on me.  While I did feel sorry for Tracey and her troubled upbringing with her mother.  When it came down to it she was just incredibly unlikable in my opinion.  There was very little that was redeeming in her.  The same goes for the narrator.  I was not a a fan of hers.  She was constantly driving me nuts.  I loathed her career path of being a personal assistant to a famous pop performer.  I was incredibly annoyed when she took it personally that she was not seen as the singer’s BFF.  Come of it woman.  You really think that was going to be the case?  Well she did and for that I call her obnoxiously naive.

So those are my top three reasons for hating this book.  While I hated reading this book I am still glad that I read it.  Despite having many issues with the novel overall I can still see and appreciate that Zadie is a talented writer.  I plan on giving Zadie another go with her first novel White Teeth.  Here is the description:

On New Year’s morning, 1975, Archie Jones sits in his car on a London road and waits for the exhaust fumes to fill his station wagon. Archie—working-class, ordinary, a failed marriage under his belt—is calling it quits, the deciding factor being the flip of a 20-pence coin. When the owner of a nearby halal butcher shop (annoyed that Archie’s car is blocking his delivery area) comes out and bangs on the window, he gives Archie another chance at life and sets in motion this richly imagined, uproariously funny novel. 

The feedback that I have gotten from others is that this is their favorite of her books.  I probably should have started off with that one first…..


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