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“Swing Time” by Zadie Smith – Or why, sometimes, you should stop reading

We all know the situation. You start a book and to begin with, it’s okay, but soon you lose interest and reading on becomes more painful, or at least quite tedious, than enjoyable. For me, Swing Time by Zadie Smith was one of those books. I got about three quarters through and then I just had to stop reading. And here’s why.

Swing TimeI don’t believe anyone should finish reading a book just because they have started it. And that is a very contentious subject. Most people will finish a book they started, even if halfway through, they’ve stopped enjoying it or lost interest in it. I, however, believe that reading should be enjoyable. And I do not want to waste time with a book I no longer enjoy. It does not mean that the book is bad or that, at some point in the future, I won’t finish it. It simply means that at this point in time, the book and me are not seeing eye to eye. And Zadie Smith’s Swing Time was one of those books.

Swing Time

Swing Time begins in 1970s (or 1980s, the exact timing is unclear) London, northwest London, to be precise. At the centre of Swing Time is the friendship between two friends who meet in ballet class. Tracey has talent and the narrator does not. Throughout their childhood, they have a difficult friendship and at the beginning of their twenties, that friendship ends. So far so good.

From there, however, Zadie Smith adds a plethora of other characters which are mainly involved in the live of the unnamed narrator. The pop star Aimee, for example. The narrator works for Aimee, while almost giving up her own life completely. Accompanying Aimee are a host of other characters that make up her world and that the narrator describes at length. The stories around Aimee take the narrator to New York, West Africa and back to London.

And perhaps it is the storyline around Aimee that bothers me the most. Every description of Swing Time focuses on the friendship with Tracy and the relationship with dance. However, so much of the book is taken up by different storylines and this narcissistic pop star. It is those stories and the sheer endless descriptions of the narrators time in West Africa that ultimately made me lose interest in the book entirely. I skipped ahead and have a broad idea of how the book ends but ultimately, that has not enticed me to keep reading.

The themes Zadie Smith writes about in Swing Time, friendship, finding yourself, getting to grips with your own history and freedom are all interesting and could have made this book fascinating. However, to me, these themes got lost in too many different storylines that diverged from the main characters of the book.

But what do you think? Have you read it? And how does it compare to other novels by Zadie Smith?