Swing Time

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

On Beauty

One may as well begin with Jerome’s e-mails to his father.

Zadie Smith doesn’t write plots, she creates characters.

On Beauty is an every-day-of-the-life story of the Belsey family. Mother, father, two sons and a daughter in an university town. As the father is white, the mother black and the children (therefore) mixed, daily life involves judgment against skin colour as well. Especially Levi, the youngest son, spends a lot of thought (and action) on his place in society and how his skin colour influences it.

In this daily life there are troubles at the university, affairs, trying to create friendships and children who can’t find their spot in society. ¬†There is no apocalypse, no aliens. Only, almost paralysing painful, human daily life.

This takes some getting used to. The only way the story moves is through time and character depth. Some of the characters keep making the same mistakes, and they are human and threedimensional enough to get under your skin. Don’t read this for an adventure, read this to get to meet new people.

On Beauty, Zadie Smith, Hamilton 2006

NW

The fat sun stalls by the phone masts.

A story about those that want to be more than where they came from and fight for it, and about those that slip into the rut that their ancestors have created for them. Not a history story, but contemporary London.

Keisha (later Natalie) and Leah are the main characters, you’re a fly on the wall at several situations, back and forth through the ages. There is a third character, sandwiched between their story lines, but – with me – he failed to stay upright in the fight for sticking around in my mind. Which is kind of fitting, because he fails to stay upright in life as well.
Keisha is the first in her family to get a thorough education, she wants different surroundings but becomes disappointed when these things don’t bring her pure happiness either.
Leah goes through the paces until she realizes they lead her to a place she doesn’t want to be. To a person she possibly doesn’t want to be.

NW can well be considered as a social commentary, but without any high horses or Loud Messages. These people are the commentary and the part that are commented on. Are they less for having no goals or wanting to escape their backgrounds? Is NW a cesspool or just another place where people try to make a living?

Sometimes the language, the people and the hopelessness of it all frustrated me. But for anyone who looks a peek beneath the hood of “our Western culture” I’d recommend this book.

NW, Zadie Smith, Hamilton 2012