Contrasting and comparing, by Sotiria Georganti [Swing Time, Zadie Smith]

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Two girls on their way to their first ballet class scrutinize each other: they recognize in one another their own, exact shade of brown.

A magnetic pull forces them into each other’s lives, however the similarities between them end abruptly. Tracey is a natural talent, attractive, beguiling to anyone who sets eyes on her. The narrator feels plain in comparison. On the other hand, the narrator’s father is a caring, loving man, while Tracey’s dad is in and out of prison, never at home. The comparisons are endless, pros and cons in a list that only generates fury, envy and distress in both of them.

Swing Time by Zadie Smith is a bildungsroman, following its two primary characters from childhood to adolescence and maturity. The writer’s preoccupation with motherhood is evident: she wonders, is an intellectual mother, such as the narrator’s, ever enough for a child that needs to have her mum fully present? How much of a struggle is to raise children when everything is catered for by nannies and assistants? Fate is another question in itself – some of the characters seem to predictably follow the course already set for them by their background and post code, while others manage to escape.

This book is contemporary in every sense of the word. Mobiles, the power of the Internet and trolls, race and the issue of appropriation, charity and humanitarian action and all the ways it can backfire… Most of all it is a book about hurt pride, of people whose shine seems to always be dimmed, who try to prove themselves but always find themselves lacking. And then comes revenge, a desparate attempt of those who feel scorned to inflict a wound at least as hurtful as the one initially suffered.

Zadie Smith is an utterly masterful writer and she proves it yet again with this novel.

Furthermore, she is interested and interesting, expanding on subjects such as dance, black music, international affairs, throughout the book. The research she has done is evident in every page, as well as her personal interests. Most importantly, though, she treats her characters, no matter how obnoxious or straight-up sadistic, with kindness and understanding. Despite all the grand gestures of hate and revenge, a spark of love never seems to wither. Sometimes, it seems that this is more than enough.

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