Exploring Identity in Zadie Smith’s Swing Time

Swing Time, the eagerly anticipated new novel from Zadie Smith and her first in four years, will not disappoint.

As with her previous novels, Smith layers Swing Time with commentary on race, class, relationships, and a search for belonging. In the beginning of Swing Time, we are introduced to an unnamed narrator—a young, biracial woman. Swinging between her childhood and adulthood, and between London, West Africa, and New York, we become a part of her search for happiness (which is also wrapped up in her sense of belonging to a place and a people). The narrator tells us about her childhood friend, Tracey. The two girls grew up in a poor housing complex in London. Both danced and sang, but Tracey propelled herself forward into a fairly unsuccessful life of performing (and never escaping her poverty) while our narrator escapes by going to college and eventually finding a job with Aimee, a worldwide popstar.

In part, Swing Time is a story of transformation and reinvention. It is only fitting that Pippa Bennett-Warner, the narrator of the audiobook, reinvents her voice for each character. Her fantastic narration enables you to fully appreciate Zadie Smith’s prose. She nimbly changes accent, cadence, and tone, reflecting the personality of each individual, allowing the listener to conjure images of each character in their head, and bringing the evocative and beautiful phrasing of Smith’s words to life.

In short, not only will the story of Swing Time make the wait worth it, but the narration gives it a new dimension.

See for yourself by listening to an excerpt: