by Zadie Smith
I am often nervous to read wildly famous books. I fear I have to spend a lot of time explaining myself, if I find I did not enjoy the book. This is based on the assumption that everyone I meet is eager to hear me talk at length about books I like or dislike. Please note the assumption is faulty at best.
Swing Time is a story about two girls that is also an exploration of race and gender, the personal, the political, and the line that distinguishes or connects the two, colour and class, the vicious and generous nature of friendships.
The unnamed narrator and Tracey, two brown girls growing up in an undesirable part of town, are friends at first sight. There is an unspoken understanding, and the author captures this precisely. This is something I came across many times in the novel – the sharp portrayal of a character trait or a thought process that left me wondering how the writer managed it. The teenage years, the sexuality, the volatile relationships that we cannot escape from, the search for an identity – written in such glorious detail.
Later, the narrator starts working for an international pop icon Aimee, who is a sensation even though she does not possess much singing talent. Aimee is modeled after pop stars of our times – performing all over the world, dating younger men, having children outside marriage, adopting African babies on a whim. When Aimee takes over an African village with the intention of developing it, the narrator feels conflicted. She is not certain if this sudden dumping of wealth on a village will be beneficial, especially because Aimee is mostly clueless about how the world works and isn’t interested in understanding context.
For all its brilliant observation, I found the novel too long and meandering. The characters aren’t particularly likeable either. Maybe I should read another novel by Zadie Smith to understand her work better.
Anusha Srinivasan is a frequently unemployed environmental engineer, tea lover, and connoisseur of smells. She takes her books and movies more seriously than she should. She has been told she writes fairly well, but she hasn’t yet found the courage to call herself a writer. Anusha blogs as amuse-douche at http://anusrini20.wordpress.com. She goes by @anusrini20 on Twitter and Instagram.
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