Swing Time by Zadie Smith (first published in 2016 by Penguin Random House)

They met when they were children; both dark-skinned and dreaming of becoming dancers.

However, only Tracey really had the talent for it. 

As Tracey shimmied from strength to strength, stage to dance school, her friend became embroiled in the development of her mind, transfixed by where her ideas, however malformed, could take her.

As Tracey’s career seemed on the up, her personal life seemed to slowly shatter, showing a badly adjusted adult struggling to keep sense of her life. Her world became smaller, never leaving her childhood home, and her circumstances were a clone of those in which she was raised – her stardom was internal.

Her friend, however, grew in another direction; music and culture were her stomping grounds. From an intern at a production company to the PA of Aimee – the biggest pop-star in the world – she seems to have direction; purpose. 

Yet as the years swing by under Aimee’s direction, she realises she is nothing but a shadow. While Aimee appears to have anthropic plans to benefit humanity, her PA needs to find her own direction and branch out. 

That’s when everything falls apart. A life spent overshadowed by talented friends, an ambitious mother and powerful boss leave her wondering who she really is, and what the purpose is.

Swing Time is a profoundly complicated novel to pin down. The many themes which it covers and the vast span of history give it an almost unattainable depth; the reader can own the story in whatever way they choose, and that is incredibly powerful. 

Bristling with constant dissonance and binaries, Zadie Smith seems to highlight the futility of seeing the world as black and white (or rich and poor, male and female, rural and urbanised, love and cynicism). In this world, the depths of any situation are hinted and explored – it’s a clever social commentary that suggests rather than dictates. 

Swing Time is a powerful read, laden with moments for introspection and deep thought, all the while being highly entertaining and completely unapologetic; a true feat of the pen.

Read more of Samantha’s reviews on her book blog.

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