Zadie Smith is so thoroughly impressive as a human being – she’s smart, witty and a tenured professor of fiction at New York University.
Her first novel, White Teeth, she wrote while in her third year at King’s College Cambridge and even when you can’t quite latch on to her writing, you wish you could, as though it’s your fault for not being intellectual and insightful enough.
This is the struggle with Swing Time. The characters are so brilliantly drawn, the minutiae of their worlds and cultural contexts so perfectly illustrated, but there’s so little to find endearing in them, that it’s possible to set them down and have no drive to pick them back up.
It tells of two friends, bound by the North-West London neighbourhood they grew up in and their dreams of becoming dancers, although only one of them has the talent for it.
Their relationship is one stricken by power plays, jealousy and the fear of being outshone and ditched, the constant disappointments of which are exhausting to read.
Meanwhile, a strand set in West Africa, wrapped up in a celebrity sub-plot, is vivid and intriguing, but unsatisfying and infuriating. Swing Time wows when it comes to language and characterisation, but it’s also a bit of a slog.
Published in hardback by Hamish Hamilton, priced £18.99 (ebook £8.99)
By Ella Walker