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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Friday, 22 September 2017

"Swing Time" by Zadie Smith

By the author of White Teeth, The Autograph Man, and the utterly wonderful NW.

What makes Zadie Smith an exceptional writer is the reality of the characters. When Tracey's mum responds to the accusation that her daughter has stolen money the actions and the dialogue was pitch perfect. Each of these people, with all of their strengths and weaknesses, are three dimensional real flawed human beings. Yes, they are inconsistent. Yes, they do things that don't seem to make sense (Tracey becomes enamoured of a cult that believes the world is ruled by giant lizards). But it is their wrinkles, their highlights and their shadows, that make them stand out in three glorious dimensions from the page.

The narrator grows up with her postman father and her OU-studying mother, later to become a politician; she goes to dance classes with her alter-ego Tracey, the rebellious child from the single parent family who just happens to be a natural dancer. The best the narrator can do is to become personal assistant to mega-singing star Aimee; she is the key liaison in the school for girls Aimee is creating in Africa. Meanwhile Tracey's dancing career has stalled after minor west end triumph and she falls into motherhood. 

It didn't feel like a novel. There was little overt plot development. Things happened and lives were shaped but the usual novellic link between character trait and consequence seemed largely absent. Instead it was almost a memoir of two girls growing up and their experiences as young women; other female character trajectories that were important were those of the mother and of the superstar Aimee. Perhaps the point that the author was trying to make most of all was that we are shaped by our socio-economic backgrounds. Although Aimee and the narrator's mother may be examples of self-made women who can transcend their circumstances through their very remarkable personalities and energies, both these do-gooders are powerless to improve the lives of others. Even an international celebrity is, in the end, only able to make marginal changes in the world, for example by adopting an African baby. The school in Africa can succeed for a while but it is clear that it's long-term prospects are bleak. Like dancer Tracey, who appears on a West End stage but in the end is another embittered single mother.

It's also about how the rich can't understand the poor. The narrator never really understands Tracey, despite them being best friends; she is even more at sea in Africa where the culture is completely alien to her. And, of course, misunderstanding leads to poor decisions and poor decisions can lead to tragedy.

Some great lines:
People are not poor because they made bad choices ... they make bad choices because they’re poor” (p 49)
Rainbows passed through the wine glasses on to the wet silverware.” (p 156)
it's just so challenging to make that translation” (p 176)
Watching all that fire with so little kindling, it was of course easy to despair.” (p 225)
No one is more ingenious than the poor, wherever you find them. When you are poor every stage has to be thought through. Wealth is the opposite. With wealth you get to be thoughtless.” (p 253)
Children can be a kind of a wealth.” (p 253)
New York was my first introduction to the possibilities of light, crashing through gaps in curtains, transforming people and sidewalks and buildings into golden icons, or black shadows, depending on where they stood in relation to the sun.” (p254)
Her pat phrases were like lids dancing on top of bubbling cooking pots, and all I had to do was sit patiently and wait for her to boil over.” (p 378)

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