Hi book clubbers!! January’s Honest Project Book Club is in session. This month’s book is Swing Time by Sadie Smith. I’m looking forward to hearing what you thought of it and if you haven't finished reading it yet: be warned, this post contains spoilers.
To join in the book club discussion, just leave a comment at the end of this blog post and feel free to comment on other people's comments too.
Swing Time is the story of two girls who dream of being dancers, but only one has any talent. The other has ideas. It’s a close but complicated childhood friendship that ends abruptly in their early twenties, never to be revisited, but never quite forgotten, either. One girl, Tracey makes it to the chorus line but struggles with adult life. The other girl, the narrator who remains nameless finishes university and ends up working as a personal assistant to a celebrity singer.
The novel covers many themes from gender, class, race, colonialism, capitalism, charity and celebrity culture. I found Smith’s social commentary witty and insightful and her observations on human nature thought provoking.
The book is beautifully written and I especially loved part one of the book entitled “The Early Years” which focused on Tracey and the narrator’s childhood friendship. The writing in this part is exceptionally beautiful. I loved chapter 11 where Tracey’s fury with an incident in school only softens when the girls organise Barbie’s wardrobe back in Tracey’s house. The chapter ends with the narrator telling us that halfway through this painstaking procedure Tracey’s heart mysteriously softens and “together we got that tiny white woman’s life in order”. As the book shifted back and forth the between past and present, it was the chapters that focused on the past that appealed to me the most.
I didn’t notice that the narrator is unnamed until half way through the book. I wonder was the purpose of this to maintain a distance between the narrator and the reader. I never warmed to the narrator, while I did to other characters. I found Tracey’s character and the characters of the narrator’s parents much more interesting than the narrator herself.
I read a review of this book online where the reviewer makes the point that the book is pretty wonderful when the author sticks with the two principal protagonists; Tracey and the narrator and in these chapters, the novel soars. Whereas, when the author introduces the Aimee character and it jumps between West Africa, New York and back to London the novel is thrown out of kilter. I felt felt the same to a large extent. The chapters that excited me were all about the narrator’s relationship with Tracey and also with her own parents. Whereas, I never really bought into her relationship with Aimee and her entourage or with the people living in the village in West Africa. While still readable and interesting, they didn’t hold the same appeal for me as the chapters focusing on Tracey and the narrator’s relationship with her parents.
In spite of this, I still loved the novel, in the main due to Smith’s beautiful writing style and also due to the ideas on family, female friendship, race, class, altruism and celebrity that are explored. I loved how the book examines celebrities’ charitable endeavours in developing countries and the usefulness of it.
So let me know your thoughts…
1. Were you engaged in the book immediately, or did it take you a while to “get into it”?
2. How did you find the structure of the book? Did you like the time shift back and forth between past and present?
3. What main ideas and themes does the author explore?
4. Is the ending satisfying? If so, why and if not, why not?
5. Did you notice that the main character / narrator is never named? Do you think this served a purpose?
6. Has this book changed you, broadened your perspective? Have you learned something new or been exposed to different ideas about people or a certain part of the world?
Thanks so much for reading this book with me this month. Please let me know your thoughts on this book in the comments below. I'll be sharing February's book choice with you tomorrow, so keep an eye out. If anyone has any recommendations for books for future book clubs, I'd love to hear them.
Happy reading, Frances xx