Book 3 of 2017: ‘Swing Time’ by Zadie Smith

 

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For as long as I have been able to remember I have been meaning to read something by Zadie Smith. I want to read ‘White Teeth’ and ‘On Beauty’ and ‘NW’. I live in North London! I’m basically supposed to be reading Zadie Smith! But for one reason, or another I’ve never got round to it…

Except now I have. It was picked as our book club choice this month, and I’m really glad it was, although I didn’t love it. It was a strange read. I felt like I didn’t have to try at all to be absorbed in the story. I was there on first pick up, but it lost me as the story progressed. It was like it was too long. What I loved initially is how much detail you get, all kinds of intimate, intricate, beautiful detail, but by the middle it sort of wore on me. There was so much minute detail, and it felt like it wasn’t adding anything to the story. The story constantly jumped backwards and forwards throughout the narrator’s life, and I wasn’t grasping at anything obviously linking the way things were ordered. There wasn’t huge amounts of narrative arc for me. I think I found this because I found the narrator so neutral, so passive. There wasn’t much active decision in the turning of events.

It really irked me, once I’d noticed, that the narrator had no name. Aimee and Tracey and Lamin and Fern and Judy all get named over and over and over. Reinforced constantly, and the narrator is never referred to by name. I think it built into the reserved personality of the narrator. She was always dominated by the people around her, didn’t stand up for anything really, went along with everything, didn’t want loads, didn’t act on her impulses, and let life just slide pass. I didn’t like the narrator that much because of it, but I think it is probably a pretty common response to the situations she’s put in.

I feel like I’ve been really negative about this book, but I didn’t dislike it. I felt a weird compulsion to keep reading. I enjoyed the way the cultures of the various environments were portrayed. I was really intrigued to find out what happened, although, as expected, the answer wasn’t much. Life just happened. I enjoyed all of the glorious detail. I’d read another Zadie Smith book. I might just try to find the shortest one I can.

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