Book Review: Swing Time by Zadie Smith

Swing Time by Zadie Smith

Posted June 18, 2021 by Amber in Reviews / 0 Comments

Swing Time

Swing Time

by Zadie Smith

Publisher: Penguin Books on November 15, 2016
Genre: Contemporary, Literary Fiction
Target Age Group: Adult
Representation: BIPOC Character(s), Black Character(s), Own Voices Author
Content Warnings: Domestic Abuse, Sexual Assault, Sexual Content, Toxic Relationship

Rating: ★★★½

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Two brown girls dream of being dancers but only one, Tracey, has talent. The other has ideas: about rhythm and time, about black bodies and black music, what constitutes a tribe, or makes a person truly free. It's a close but complicated childhood friendship that ends abruptly in their early twenties, never to be revisited, but never quite forgotten, either.

Tracey makes it to the chorus line but struggles with adult life, while her friend leaves the old neighborhood behind, traveling the world as an assistant to a famous singer, Aimee, observing close up how the one percent live.

But when Aimee develops grand philanthropic ambitions, the story moves from London to West Africa, where diaspora tourists travel back in time to find their roots, young men risk their lives to escape into a different future, the women dance just like Tracey the same twists, the same shakes and the origins of a profound inequality are not a matter of distant history, but a present dance to the music of time.


This is the first time I’ve read a Zadie Smith book, and her writing immediately transported me.  Swing Time tells the story of two girls who were friends when they were young, loved to dance, and took very different paths as they grew up and grew apart.  The story jumps between time periods and continents, but the voice remains the same.

I found Swing Time to be a pendulum between states.  Famous, unsuccessful.  Comfortable, poor.  Intellectual, cosmopolitan.  Natural talent, hard work.  Throughout the entire book, our unnamed narrator finds herself confused and learning.  The world itself never seems to fit in the box she has built in her mind to fit it and as such the alternating chapters between Aimee and Tracey are in many ways repetitive, just from a slightly different perspective.

One thing I will criticize is that Swing Time feels… excessively wordy.  Despite what a wonderful job narrator Pippa Bennett-Warner did with this book, I still had to play it back on 2x because otherwise I found my mind wandering.  Each section is beautifully written, but with hours of material just like this, it’s easy to get fatigued by the philosophical ponderings, socio-economic lectures, and bemused conversation.

Like most literary fiction, this book explores the world.  Smith’s writing is stunning and immersive despite its repetitive nature and wordiness. I enjoyed the slow transformation of not just our narrator, but Aimee and Tracey as well.  Swing Time is a good book to pick up if you’re looking for something slow but interesting that is well-written and raw, though not abrasively so.  I enjoyed it enough that I will pick up more of Smith’s work.

Ratings Breakdown

Setting: ★★★ 1/2
Plot: ★★★
Characters: ★★★ 1/2
Writing: ★★★★
Pacing: ★★ 1/2
Narrator: ★★★★
Personal Enjoyment: ★★★★

three and a half star rating


Code Orange Problematic Author History


Have you ever taken a dance class?  Tracey and our narrator grew up loving dance.  I’ve never taken dance, but I wanted to when I was young – swing, in particular!  What about you?  Let me know in the comments.

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