It was the first day of my humiliation.
I’ve read some Zadie Smith before and I think I can repeat a previously used sentiment: Zadie Smith doesn’t write plots, she creates characters. Although this time, in Swing Time there definitely might be some plot-like features to be found.
There’s the growing up of a mixed girl in eighties England on the (edge of the) estate, her sort-of friendship with an equal in skin colour but very different in background and surroundings and their shared passion of dancing.
There’s the woman who’s an assistant of a world-famous pop-star who gets entangled in the lives of West-African villagers (maybe Gambian) in an attempt of charity work.
And then there’s the woman who can’t seem to do right by the dreams and ambitions of her mother, who in turn decides to pursue them herself.
It’s all the same woman, so you might get what I mean. It’s a slice of life but life is firmly on the background, even when the protagonist (unnamed) interacts with it and the people part of it. It’s all very much in her head, even when, or maybe especially when you would appreciate a bird’s eye view.
But the title is ever so fitting, the story providing a certain kind of rhythm that makes the book easy to pick up and stick to.
Swing Time, Zadie Smith, Hamish Hamilton 2016
In a city swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace, or at least not yet openly at war, a young man met a young woman in a classroom and did not speak to her.
This is an author of which I like his stories, and usually his detached way of writing, yet find it hard to put into words what I precisely like about both things mentioned.
This time he manages to make the refugee story (people fleeing versus people accepting and or fighting their addition to their familiar surroundings) slightly magical and/yet apocalyptic. Because the main characters are refugees, but they manage to leave their country through a door, a black hole, that can appear behind any door. This means that people from all around the world appear all around the world without the lethal trips and troubles.
But after that, there’s still acceptance to fight for. The book is pretty evenly divided between before, during and after the migratory moves and changes. This way you don’t have to think about the ever after, Hamid provides.
In the end, it’s kind of a hopeful story with plenty of realism to make you feel better about the subject.
Exit West, Mohsin Hamid, Hamish Hamilton 2017
My God, Mae thought.
You have to come in really big and really original to terrify me with mythological creatures, murderers or aliens. But show me the ordinary human being willingly going off the tracks ..that’s the horror you scare me with. That’s the horror Dave Eggers offers in this novel.
Of course, in the beginning is everything awesome. Young Mae finally gets a job at this amazing, progressive company that is going to make the world a better place through the internet and social media. So they are surprisingly thorough about your online presence, and a bit demanding about sharing everything you do, but it’s only out of interest. Which other big company is interested in its personnel like that?
If you’re a hero long enough, you’ll be around to see yourself turn into a villain. There is goodwill. So much goodwill that it smothers, chokes, stalks and kills. Because what used to be optional, becomes mandatory. Secrets are bad, privacy is bad, continuous sharing is the only way to live. And plenty people agree to living it.
I don’t expect this to be a realistic image of the future, but it is definitely scary enough to avoid your feeds and time lines for a while.
The Circle, Dave Eggers, Hamish Hamilton 2013
It is many years before the Pied Piper comes back for the other children.
Tightly knit Gothic horror story (or fairy tale?) that gives the reader enough imagery to fill hours of film with.
Gretel in the Dark shows that (opposed to some recently read novels) that a story doesn’t necessarily need likable characters to be enticing. Krysta’s ‘won’ts’ and ‘shant’s’ are grating and the delusions and anger of Josef, Gudrun and Lilie aren’t very appealing either. And yet, the reader carries on, curious-anxious to untie the knot.
There are two sides to this – possibly – same story. There is Krysta, who lives next to a zoo for human-animals with her father and ever-suffering maid and then there is ‘Lilie’, a confused woman whom is sure she is a machine that needs to kill ‘the monster’. Per chapter the years swap, until the lines are starting to fade.
Gretel in the Dark is a chew-able story, give it a chance to get through and it will linger for a long time.
Gretel and the Dark, Eliza Granville, Hamish Hamilton 2014