In reading Zadie Smith’s latest novel, Swing Time, the emotion that stayed with me the entire time while reading was frustration. Absolute frustration.
Don’t get me wrong. Swing Time is a great book. Ms. Smith’s writing is as strong as ever, her ability to immerse the reader into the world of her characters is still there, and the wonderful language she uses has not left her. In fact, the book itself is not why I was frustrated. My frustration was, and still is, with the main character.
Swing Time is the story of two young girls living in the UK version of the projects (called “estates”). Drawn together by their love of all things dance, they become friends, but it is a very uneven friendship. Tracey, a brash, beautiful and very troubled young girl, is practically worshipped by the unnamed narrator for the entire novel. Tracey is the boss in all things and can make her friend feel like nothing in no time flat, even though her friend makes strides in her life Tracey can’t. What I found so frustrating about the unnamed narrator was how easily she let Tracey lord over her, and others like her boss Aimee, rule her. I found myself exasperated and even downright pissed off at this young girl, then woman, because it was almost like she couldn’t (or wouldn’t) break free from the hold Tracey had on her. No matter how much time passed, one word from, or about, Tracey sent her reeling. It drove me nuts. Thank you, Zadie Smith.
When I read, I not only look at the language, the storyline and theme of a novel or short story, I check for any reactions or emotions that surface while reading. My level of frustration when I read Swing Time had me sometimes responding to events or dialogue in the novel out loud. Most of the time while riding the train to work. I would shake my head in disbelief when the narrator would do something unbelievably stupid thanks to Tracey, and there were many times that I just wanted to shake her senseless. All those reactions are due to Ms. Smith’s exceptional writing. She created two very complex characters whose lives took very different turns but are intertwined on so many levels.
Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of Swing Time, which is out now. I highly recommend it.