Swing Time: Library Edition Preloaded Digital Audio Player – Unabridged, November 15, 2016
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- Publisher : Random House; Unabridged edition (November 15, 2016)
- Language : English
- ISBN-10 : 1509426469
- ISBN-13 : 978-1509426461
- Item Weight : 6.4 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.25 x 1 x 7.25 inches
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from the United States
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Swing Time, a multifaceted story of two biracial girls growing up in significantly different homes who become inseparable friends but face divergent destinies.
Tracey and the Narrator (unnamed) meet in 1982 as they are both signing up for a ballet class at a church in a working-class section of London. Both are mixed race with the narrator having a black intellectual ambitious mother (of Caribbean descent) while her white father who is nurturing but less ambition. Tracey’s mother, on the other hand is white, ignorant, indulgent and unattractive and her criminal father spends most of his time in jail leaving Tracey morally directionless. Tracey has the talent and ends up on stage with a dancing career while the narrator begins work as a personal assistant to an Australian Madonna-like pop star named Aimee. Aimee decides to build a school for girls in West Africa and the narrator takes on the complicated dynamics of working in a country entrenched in poverty and old beliefs taking assignments from a unstable boss. She reports, "I scheduled abortions, hired dog walkers, ordered flowers, wrote Mother's Day cards, applied creams, administered injections, squeezed spots, and wiped very occasional break-up tears.". The story begins in 2008 as the narrator is reeling from the embarrassment of being fired and then moves back and forth in time and location from London to New York to West Africa. The chapters headings are numbered but not identified as to time or location and so it takes a minute to figure out the location and time frame. It is written from the first-person narrative making the identification of who is speaking easier to determine. Some of the characters, although central to the story, seemed to be not fully realized. Intelligently written and researched. 4 stars
Swing Time is many things. It’s a perfectly constructed novel written with a poet’s ear for language. It’s also partly a Marxist fable of the corruption of great wealth: “Maybe luxury is the easiest matrix to pass through. Maybe nothing is easier to get used to than money.” Partly a feminist meditation on gender inequality: “I often thought I saw her again, this girl who lives everywhere and at all times in history, who is sweeping the yard or pouring out tea or carrying somebody else’s baby on her hip and looking over at you with a secret she can’t tell.” Swing Time also is a coming-of-age story about a young woman and her best friend, and the different arcs each of their lives took.
This book deserves to be read and re-read, each time discerning new dimensions to Zadie Smith’s intimate novel.
Top reviews from other countries
The story dips back and forth in our narrator's life. There was a friendly childhood rivalry with Tracey - who lived fun the flats on the wrong side of the road. There was the job working for a youth TV company. There was the mother's political career as she became MP for Brent West. There were romances. The really constant line, though, is Aimee. This is a good insight into the world of the super-rich; the superstars with retinues, with diaries chock-full of trivia, with a quest for new challenges when everything has already been achieved. So we follow our narrator, following Aimee to The Gambia where the plan is to set up a school for girls. Aimee has the big idea, her retinue have to make it happen. It is a classic case of imposing western values on a developing country; the school is not what the community needs but, by God, it is what they are going to get.
But the Gambian line starts to get bogged down with personal relationships. As the Aimee party all seem to hook up with Gambians, it gets mighty dull. Do I care that A fancies B and B fancies C? I think not.
And the Tracey line is also interesting, although it is not quite clear how friendly rivalry in teenage became hostility in adulthood. Tracey is a dancer and pursues her dream. Our narrator doesn't really have a dream but pursues it anyway. There was supposed to be a significant moment, but when it is revealed it carries too much weight.
There is enough in the book to make the reader smile. There is pop culture, satire, race, class, politics. But there is also this saggy, baggy middle that goes on way too long and allows the interest to wane. I didn't buy the ending at all - which required our narrator to become a disgruntled employee and for her employer to discover that fact. Both these premises were implausible. But at least it brought a long novel to a somewhat belated end.
This sounds negative, but on balance the good did outweigh the bad. But if only there had been a stronger editor...
In Swing Time, as she had done with White Teeth a worryingly long time ago, she has tried to include everything but the kitchen sink, every concern about race, class, gender and age, as well as ambivalence or disquiet about globalisation, celebrity, technology, politics, nostalgia, human motives and the depths of friendship. In her previous novels I felt a certain coldness and detachment, even in – perhaps especially in – NW, her own favourite. But I guess that is just my personal feeling (like how I am moved by the singing of Jennifer Hudson but nauseated by Celine Dion!), but this feeling troubled me as the milieu – multicultural, working-class London – is mine and I wanted to hear someone who spoke to me in a way that I could relate to, something I’m still kind of waiting for, though an indie novel I read a couple of years back came close.
Maybe because Swing Time movingly puts our little lives into perspective within the greater scheme of things while acknowledging that our little lives are all we have, this time Zadie has got it right. The blurb, reviews and publicity have made this work familiar before anyone reads it and hardly worth summarising except that it is, unsurprisingly, about two ‘brown’ girls brought up on the wrong side of the tracks in a drab inner London suburb, one intelligent but tortured by self-doubt, the other vivacious and talented but unruly, and how life pans out for them. Understanding these personality differences, their home and familial circumstances, and the emotional tension between the two in their early years is fundamental to understanding the book overall, even during the years they are apart and living in unlike worlds. There were a few occasions in the African sections when I feared that things were about to become a bit preachy or cloying but the author deftly managed to remain even-handed every time. It was all so impressive. I just felt that this was what I had been waiting for from Zadie. The thing is I have experienced many of the narrator’s internalised feelings, but I wish I could write like that!
Is she one of the world’s great novelists? Now – in my opinion – yes, but there are not many of them.
The narrative then goes back to her childhood and her best friend Tracey, an aspiring dancer with whom she shares a mutual obsession with old dance movies. Her mother also features heavily in this earlier section - a proud woman educating herself and refusing to be defined by labels.
As the book goes on the far and recent pasts intermingle and we learn more about her job. She seems to have no life beyond Aimee's, no friends who aren't part of the star's world. Some of the best sections are set in Africa where Aimee has decided to set up a girl's school.
It's an entertaining read if you don't mind a fairly unlikeable and naive central character, but it is rather disjointed and overlong. The different sections tumble over themselves and there is so much going on that nothing ever gets followed through fully. So much so that it felt as though there were three separate novels in there struggling to get out: Tracey's, the mother's and Aimee's. All three characters are at least as interesting, and probably more so, than our self obsessed narrator.
All in all it's an easy read that rattles along.