It’s not an exaggeration to say that we’d pay to read a grocery list written by Zadie Smith. That’s how much we love her work. From White Teeth and On Beauty to her essays in the New Yorker, Smith’s extraordinary talent for crafting addictive stories and memorable characters is, in our opinion, unmatched among writers of contemporary fiction.
That’s precisely why you need to read her fifth and latest novel, Swing Time.
Swing Time is a sprawling work that, like many of her previous stories, plays off the idea of doubles. In this case, the coming-of-age of two girls: the aforementioned narrator and her on-and-off best friend, Tracey.
The two meet in a dance class as young girls and are immediately drawn to each other because of their comparable skin tones (both have one white parent and one parent of Afro-Caribbean descent). As they grow up, their paths become ever more disparate, with Tracey seeking fame as a dancer and the narrator living and working in the periphery of fame (she assists an international pop star who’s a kind of Madonna and Angelina Jolie hybrid).
Smith covers a ton of thematic ground here, from ambition, race and class to cultural appropriation and the outsize influence of celebrity. But where she really shines is in creating characters so fully realized, you actually forget that they’re fictional.
It’s been four years since Smith’s last novel, NW, but Swing Time was worth the wait.