For the past year, it’s seemed almost impossible to have a bookish discussion without somebody mentioning ‘Swing Time’ by Zadie Smith. Once again, I’m the last person to arrive at this party!
Every review I have read or heard of this novel has been nothing short of glowing, it was just recently announced as being on the long list for the 2017 Man Booker Prize. With that in mind, forgive me if my review seems a little subdued. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the book, I just don’t seem to have had the same life changing experience as everybody else who read it. Perhaps, I’m just naive, this is a book that’s bursting at the seams with a lifetime of experiences, some of which I can relate to, others that I have yet to experience. If I were to read this book again in a few years, or maybe even one, I have no doubt that I would take something completely different away from it. Already, after only one reading, it’s clear that this is the kind of novel that you can read again and again, each time finding something new.
It is also important to note, at this point, that the story follows the lives of two women of colour, their friendship at a young age and their bond changes, bends and breaks as they grow up. As a white woman, I will never understand the experiences of people of colour, so this book wasn’t written for me.
Zadie Smith’s writing is like nothing I’ve ever read before. Somehow, her writing is simple yet so vivid. She captures the atmosphere of earlier childhood beautifully and the excitement, apprehension and delicacy that comes with new friendships. Swing Time takes place in London, New York and West Africa and Smith captures each place in a way that makes the distinct and separate from one another but when weaved together form a rich and vibrant narrative.
The thing I will take away from this book is the portrayal of friendship as a non-linear thing. As young children, we seem to expect that the friends we make in primary school will stay with us for life when for many people this isn’t the case. Many friendships are not constant, just like everything in life, they ebb and flow. The dynamic between two people changes as their lives do. Sometimes, life events bring them closer, others, it breaks all ties they have for good. Only last week, I realised that I am no longer in contact with anyone I considered a friend before the age of fifteen. In the beginning of the novel, Smith captures that sometimes uneasy relationship that comes from the friendship between young children, the constant impluse to lie to one another and the desperate need to be liked by the other person. Smith really hones in on the role that lying and dishonesty have to play in young friendships and how that can travel through life.
There are aspects of this book that have really stayed with me and inspired me. In a year’s time, I will reread it and hopefully, I will take something new from it.
Have you read ‘Swing Time’? Let me know what you thought in the comments.