I’m worried I picked the wrong novel for my first Zadie Smith book. Although there were some great themes, primarily relationships, boundaries, and betrayal, I found this book very slow and at times hard to follow. The main character seemingly jumps from conversation to conversation with intermittent chunks of scenery. Also listening to this on audio felt harried and complicated. Perhaps in print I might have had other opinions.
I enjoyed the first third immensely, in which the narrator and her friend Tracy tell the story of their childhood and coming of age. She and Tracy began as dancers and became friends that way, although their households were vastly different places to grow up. Each of them has odd sexual experiences at a young age, and some trauma from Tracy’s parents’ relationship as well. I felt their childhood was very effectively explored and described.
After their childhood, the story becomes more and more scrambled. The narrator travels often, and begins working for an Australian pop star, who seemed to be like Brittney Spears. Consequently they end up spending a lot of time in several countries in Africa, meeting a new cast of characters whom they befriend, but with weird relationships founded from power, money, and proximity. From then on I often found myself feeling confused. I believe one of the consistent themes throughout this story was power, who gets it, who has it, and who wants it. In the end one of the small side characters tells our narrator that she remains childish even at the oldest we experience her, and I feel that’s fitting. She seems to be running around and attempting to prove to everyone that she is mature and capable, yet she has changed little from how she is portrayed in her youth.
The conclusion was far too abrupt for my preferences, although it did feel fitting. In a way, our narrators life fell apart and she’s left with few if any relationships, and an odd dream of some relationships she may have the opportunity to build, which in a way, tie her back to her relationships from her childhood.
I wanted desperately to like this novel, as I’ve heard Zadie Smith is a modern classic author. However, I enjoyed many of the side characters far more than the main character, and felt that the story was too scattered for me to understand on my first go. Unfortunately I have no interest in rereading this book, so perhaps it is just lost to me. I will try again with Zadie Smith in the future, definitely in print next time! For now, I’m left feeling a little disappointed.