Review of Zadie Smith’s Swing Time

Swing Time, by Zadie Smith

“The narrator has spent most of her life in other people’s shadows, but through her storytelling asserts an identity that’s no longer tethered to another, one released only by disgrace.”

The novelist E.M. Forster, one of Zadie Smith’s literary heroes, described the Greek poet C.P. Cavafy as having the “strength of the recluse, who, though not afraid of the world, always stands at a slight angle to it.” The same could be said of Smith and politics. She is not afraid of the political, but her work is always pitched at a slight angle to it. In a recent interview in Slate, she commented that she does not have a “political intelligence” (I admit I find this hard to believe), that her “first concern is people,” but that “sometimes people’s intimate lives reflect the political world.” She may not deliberately impose the political on her work, but the political certainly emerges from it. What often transpires is a complicated intersection of conflicting ideas, ideals, and positions. It’s art, after all, not propaganda.

Intentionally political or not, Zadie Smith is without question one of our most astute cultural critics, and Swing Time (The Penguin Press), like her previous four novels, showcases her keen ability to examine a character’s psychological landscape while interrogating a cultural moment. Of Zadie Smith’s previous novel, NW (The Penguin Press, 2012), I wrote in a review for this publication: “Through repetition and refraction, each point of view brings new and surprising insight into events.” In Swing Time, new insight comes not from the way various characters’ perspectives shape the story, but from the narrator’s storytelling herself, a fragmented, shadow-self living in various fragmented realities, none to which she feels she fully belongs.

It is perhaps due to this particular narrative stance that Swing Time is Smith’s most melancholic work to date. Though the jacket copy calls it “exuberant,” to me it felt careful, wistful, resigned—punctuated by periods of “kinetic joy” that come, most often, through dance. In fact, I was puzzled by the jacket copy until I considered the other meanings of “exuberant”: not marked by unrestrained joy but by productive abundance, luxuriant growth. Swing Time is a novel that pours out, unrestrained yet delicately woven, like memory. Memory is often infused with joy, but also with shame, and the narrator feels the latter deeply, along with a desperate need to understand both where she has come from and where that might lead her, and how, most important, the two things are related.

Read further @ Fiction Writers Review

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~ by eneryvibes on 1,March 15, 2017.

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