Long ago, and I can’t even remember why now, I decided that I didn’t like Zadie Smith much and ignored her ever since. What was I thinking? I read On beauty last year and loved it, so I’m now working through her backlist that I had so very mistakenly dismissed. Sorry Zadie. (I think it was reading White teeth when it first came out and finding it annoying – but she says she finds it annoying too now, so that’s ok.) (Also have to note that On beauty is a reworking of what was for many years my favourite book ever, Howards End by E M Forster – so a cover version of a book I adore by an author I didn’t rate should have been horrible. Actually, no: it was brilliant.)
Anyway. Swing time is a huge book, in scope and stature, which starts unassumingly with two little girls at a dance class on their London council estate in the 1980s. From there we spiral off to New York and West Africa, taking in the entertainment industry, celebrity charity, family, friendship, ‘bettering’ yourself, and a whole lot else. I like stories with convincing female friendships and this really is, with all the resentment, jealousy, shame and power struggles of ‘best friends’ at that age (and perhaps beyond). It’s a rich read psychologically; all the characters feel real and complex, and it’s larded with satisfying dollops of wisdom, satire and social commentary. It even made me find dance interesting, while I was reading it anyway, which is some achievement.