I’ve heard wonderful things about Zadie Smith, so when this one showed up at my doorstep thanks to my book subscription service, I figured it was time to finally introduce myself to her. I’d also heard that White Teeth or On Beauty would have been better entryways into her work, but something about the story of two friends who loved dance intrigued me. And indeed, even now that I finished, the interplay between these friends, over a lifetime, is compelling in its complications and contradictions. Smith *knew* these girls. She was these girls. And so did/was I.
Still, I didn’t love this book—it might even be fair to say I didn’t like it all that much—but I love Zadie Smith. In Swing Time, Smith writes that in Astaire and Kelly’s movies, the story didn’t matter so much as the dancing. The story was the price you paid for the rhythm. So it is with this book. The story is the price we pay for the prose.
Despite how meandering this particular narrative is (her first with a first person narrator, apparently, and a frustrating, unlikeable one at that), her style comes through easily. Her writing is rich and dense, but also easy and recognizable. Throughout my reading of this book, I’d find myself rereading pages and paragraphs for anything I might have missed. The story is too long and spends too much time away from the relationship that is supposed to be driving it and with which Smith truly works her magic. But all that said, the reading of it was enjoyable. To use the parlance of the book: it’s enjoyable like a Michael Jackson song you don’t know the words or choreography to is enjoyable because it’s still Michael Jackson.