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, about 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.
In the opening chapters, I thought ‘yes, I’m going to love this..’ Why? An engaging first person narrative, with beautifully observed writing. Tracey, the rugged companion, full of verve, drive and passion. The narrator’s mother, the mousey father. I loved the reflection on the childhood friendship that I expected to be at the heart of the book. I wondered how their story would pan out. I was thrown, then, when the narrator (unnamed) was suddenly under the influence of someone else, Aimee, a child-like pop-star, to whom the narrator seemingly surrendered. It was here that I fell out of love with Swing Time, and became frustrated with the direction of the book, and the main character.
There was little joy in Swing Time, and at times this was wearing. That the main protagonist had no name was interesting – because she simply subsumed herself into others. Her mother, her friend Tracey, her boss. She was flat, and flattened, and this made for turgid reading at times. That said, I never felt like giving up, because I thought that there was more to resolve with Tracey. There was, but I’m not sure that Swing Time delivered that.
Family, friendships, race, feminism, philanthropy, loyalty – Swing Time tackles big themes, but the incoherence in the narration, from a main character without a strong voice, meant that the themes were rather echoes, with some rambling speeches (mother, Aimee, Fern, Lamin, Judy) that were easy to gloss over.
Smith’s writing is the saviour of the book. Such clarity of sentence, powerful imagery and superb dialogue. She clearly had something to explore, but sadly, for me, the choice of central character meant that the book lacked something, and wasn’t the book that I was expecting it to be. Disappointing.