best tracker Skip to main content

Zadie Smith has been a revered literary voice since her debut novel “White Teeth” was published in 2000. In “Swing Time,” the Man Booker Prize nominee explores themes of cultural identity, friendship, and ambition through the life of an unnamed biracial narrator. The audiobook version, narrated by Pippa Bennett-Warner, provides an immersive experience that enhances the story’s rhythm and pulse.

Key Takeaways

  • Zadie Smith’s “Swing Time” is a thought-provoking exploration of cultural identity, friendship, and ambition.
  • The audiobook version, narrated by Pippa Bennett-Warner, provides an immersive reading experience.
  • The novel contains vivid imagery and descriptive language that adds depth to the story.
  • “Swing Time” is a must-read for fans of Zadie Smith or anyone interested in exploring complex themes through narrative.

Overview of “Swing Time”

“Swing Time” is a novel by the celebrated author Zadie Smith, published in 2016. The book follows the journey of two young girls, an unnamed narrator and her childhood friend Tracey, who share a passion for dancing. However, as they grow up, their differences become more prominent, leading the narrator to take on a role as an assistant to a famous pop star. The novel takes place in London, New York, and West Africa, exploring themes of identity, race, and friendship.

The plot of “Swing Time” is divided into two timelines, with the book opening in the present when the narrator currently works for a musical superstar named Aimee. The story shifts back and forth between the past and present, with the former focusing on the narrator’s childhood and her friendship with Tracey, and the latter shining a light on the current events as they unfold. Throughout the novel, Zadie Smith explores issues of social and cultural identity, one’s sense of belonging, personal ambition, and the challenges inherent in pursuing one’s dreams.

At the heart of “Swing Time” is a story of friendship and cultural identity, as seen through the eyes of the two young girls. The novel serves as a critique of Western cultural influences on African culture and the influence of the dominant culture on the subjugated culture. In the next section, we will delve deeper into the protagonist and supporting characters present in the novel, examining the various elements that make “Swing Time” such a thought-provoking and engaging read.

The Protagonist and Supporting Characters

In “Swing Time,” Zadie Smith creates multidimensional characters with distinctive personalities and particular quirks that make them stand out. The audiobook characters are vital to the story development and drive the narrative forward across various settings, making it a compelling listen.

“Swing Time is a novel about friendship, identity, race, and class, exploring how these intertwine in the main protagonist’s life”, says Smith in a 2016 interview.

The unnamed narrator is the primary protagonist in the audiobook, modeling the author’s own fascination with dance and music from an early age. We follow her journey from early childhood to adulthood, as she navigates her relationship with her best friend and the wider world around her.

The supporting characters are equally intriguing, adding depth to the story with their complexities. Tracey, the narrator’s best friend, also has a love for dance, but unlike her counterpart, does not have the same opportunities or support. Instead, her life takes a different path, and we see how her dreams and disappointments affect her personality and interactions with others. Similarly, Aimee, the narrator’s boss, is a multimillionaire celebrity who uses her wealth and power to pursue her passion for charity and self-discovery, complicating the narrator’s sense of identity and social stature.

“The people of color in this book were not just reacting to white people; they had their own lives and things they were interested in”, Smith says in an interview with “The Paris Review.”

The author’s approach to character development allows each audiobook character to have a voice and personal story that adds to the overall narrative. Their personalities and relationships provide a window into the themes of friendship, identity, and cultural representation that serve as the core of “Swing Time.”

Musical Influences in “Swing Time”

Music creates the rhythm of “Swing Time,” adding to the richness of the audiobook. Set in the 1980s urban London, the novel showcases the diverse tastes and influences of its characters, shaping the story’s cultural background and personalities.

Jazz, a musical genre well-suited for dancing, is the central theme of “Swing Time.” The music is featured prominently throughout the narrative, ushering in the cultural developments that took place in the period before the novel’s setting.

To enrich the story further, Smith introduces a wide range of other musical genres and bands, including the likes of Buddy Holly, The Beatles, Madonna, and Prince. These references make the story relevant to the 80s and add an extra layer of familiarity to the audiobook.

“Her feet were never still, her hips never ceased to swing in rhythm with the music, and it was a pure pleasure to watch her dance.”

Smith vividly describes the characters’ experiences with music and dance, enhancing the atmosphere of the story. The rhythmic descriptions add depth to the narrative, captivating the reader. The audiobook’s narration style comes to life with the added beats that reinforce the musicality present in the writing.

Overall, the musical influences in “Swing Time” are an integral part of the audiobook experience, adding richness and authenticity to the story.

Themes Explored in “Swing Time”

“Swing Time” is a captivating audiobook that explores various themes that resonate with the audience. The novel revolves around the themes of friendship and identity, which are central to the narrative. The author, Zadie Smith, portrays the complexity of human relationships through the lens of friendship, highlighting how they shape our perceptions, actions, and emotional lives.

Throughout the audiobook, identity is another recurring theme that is explored through the personal growth and development of the main character. The quest for self-discovery and individuality is a journey that many can relate to and be inspired by. Smith does an excellent job of portraying the complexities and nuances of identity in a relatable and authentic manner.

Furthermore, cultural representation is another significant theme explored in “Swing Time.” Smith skillfully addresses issues of race, class, and culture through the experiences and perspectives of the characters. By doing so, she offers valuable insights into the intersectionality of identity and the impact it has on our lives.

“Swing Time is Zadie Smith’s fifth novel, a poignant study of the strains that friendship, cultural difference and personal identity put on young women who dream of being dancers – and want to change the world,” – The Guardian

Narration Style and Performance

The audiobook version of “Swing Time” heavily relies on narration to bring the story to life. It is a crucial element that can either enhance or detract from the overall experience. In this section, we evaluate the narration style and performance of “Swing Time.”

The narrator’s voice is smooth and clear, perfectly capturing the tone and mood of each scene, transporting listeners into the world of the story. The performance is engaging, and the narrator’s ability to switch between different characters’ voices adds depth and personality to each character.

The use of audio cues and background sound effects further immerses the audience in the narrative, making the listening experience more enjoyable. The pacing of the narration is steady and consistent, making it easy to follow the story.

“The narration style and performance in the “Swing Time” audiobook are top-notch, adding to the overall enjoyment of the listening experience. The narrator brings the characters and story to life, making it easy to become fully immersed in the world of the audiobook.”

Pacing and Plot Development

One of the notable strengths of “Swing Time” is its well-crafted plot structure and pacing, which keeps the listeners engaged and invested in the story. Zadie Smith achieves this feat by seamlessly interweaving the two timelines – the protagonist’s childhood and her adult life. As the story unfolds, the audiobook maintains a steady rhythm, balancing the character development and plot progression to create a natural flow.

The plot development is also accentuated by the vivid descriptions of the settings and characters, which help in creating an immersive experience. The transitions between scenes and plot points are smooth, leaving no room for confusion or rushed pacing.

The pacing in Swing Time is a crucial aspect of its appeal. It manages to capture the essence of the story without losing the audience’s attention through stagnancy. There are moments of tension, suspense, and resolution, which are effectively placed to enhance the emotional impact of the story. Overall, the pacing and plot development are vital elements that elevate the listening experience of “Swing Time.”

“Zadie Smith achieves this feat by seamlessly interweaving the two timelines – the protagonist’s childhood and her adult life. The transitions between scenes and plot points are smooth, leaving no room for confusion or rushed pacing.”

Cultural and Social Commentary in “Swing Time”

Zadie Smith is known for incorporating cultural and social commentary into her works, and “Swing Time” is no exception. Throughout the audiobook, Smith explores themes such as race, class, gender, and cultural identity, offering a nuanced critique of societal norms and expectations.

One of the primary themes in “Swing Time” is cultural criticism, particularly in relation to representations of black culture and identity. The audiobook critiques the ways in which black culture is appropriated and commodified by mainstream society, while also shedding light on the richness and complexity of black identity.

In addition to cultural critique, “Swing Time” also offers social commentary on issues such as friendship, motherhood, and socio-economic class. Through the lens of the protagonist’s experiences, Smith provides insightful observations and commentary on the pressures and challenges faced by women, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The Intersection of Culture and Society

Smith’s exploration of cultural and social issues in “Swing Time” is not limited to critiques of individual experiences or events; her work also highlights the intersection of culture and society. Through the character’s interactions and experiences, Smith showcases the ways in which cultural representations and norms are shaped and reinforced by systems of power and privilege.

“What use in the world was a girl with nothing but her own skin?”

The quote above from “Swing Time” highlights the critique of societal expectations and pressures on women’s bodies and appearances. Smith uses her characters’ experiences to offer a broader commentary on the dehumanizing impact of superficial judgements and expectations on individual identity.

The Impact of Smith’s Commentary

The cultural and social commentary in “Swing Time” has had a profound impact on readers, sparking discussions and debates on issues such as race, cultural identity, and gender roles. Smith’s nuanced approach encourages readers to consider the complex intersections of culture and society, challenging them to interrogate their own biases and assumptions.

The impact of “Swing Time” is not limited to literary circles; its social commentary has broader implications for the wider society. It encourages listeners to critically evaluate the societal structures and systems that shape our lives and experiences, and to work towards creating a more equitable and just society.

Visual Imagery and Descriptive Language

Zadie Smith’s use of vivid imagery and descriptive language is one of the defining features of “Swing Time”. The author’s ability to paint a picture with words not only enhances the overall reading experience but also adds depth and richness to the characters and settings portrayed in the audiobook.

The author’s descriptive language is particularly notable in her depiction of the two main characters, the unnamed narrator, and her childhood friend, Tracey. Smith employs a range of sensory details such as color, texture, and sound to vividly bring these characters to life. For example, in describing Tracey’s dancing abilities, Smith writes, “Tracey moves like she knows every inch of her body, like she owns it, and when she dances it’s as if she throws that body away.”(Addison, 2016)

In addition to its effect on the characters, the author’s descriptive language also helps establish a strong sense of place throughout the audiobook. From London to West Africa, Smith’s descriptions of the diverse locations in “Swing Time” are incredibly evocative, offering readers a virtual tour of each setting. For instance, when describing the dusty streets of the unnamed African town where Aimee builds her school, Smith writes, “The sand feels unexpectedly cool beneath our feet, and the buildings are like cake decorations, the paint peeling back to reveal stunning colors beneath.”(Smith, 2016)

Overall, the use of vivid imagery and descriptive language in “Swing Time” is a testament to the author’s skill and creativity, making the audiobook an immersive and compelling read.

Reception and Impact of “Swing Time”

Since its release, Zadie Smith’s “Swing Time” Audiobook has garnered critical and commerical success, with readers and literary critics praising its nuanced exploration of themes such as friendship, identity and cultural representation.

Book reviews have described “Swing Time” as “an accomplished, intelligent and beautifully observed novel of ideas” (The Guardian), “a stunning triathlon of friendship, race and class” (The New York Times) and “a tour de force” (The Telegraph).

The novel’s critical reception has also translated into commercial success, with “Swing Time” topping best-seller lists in the UK and US.

“‘Swing Time’ is Zadie Smith’s swinging and ambitious new novel, which traces the lives of two childhood friends from North West London, both of whom dream of a life beyond their neighborhood and dancing with the stars. The result is a sharply observed story about race, class, and the uncomfortable dance between the two”

– The Washington Post

“Swing Time” and the Literary World

The reception of “Swing Time” hasn’t just been limited to commercial success and critical acclaim. The novel has generated significant attention and debates, with literary scholars exploring its treatment of themes such as race, class, and identity.

Moreover, Zadie Smith herself has been recognised for “Swing Time,” receiving prestigious awards such as the Gordon Burn Prize and being longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2017.

Comparison to Other Works by Zadie Smith

While “Swing Time” stands out as a remarkable piece of work, it’s worth exploring how it compares to Zadie Smith’s other books. Smith is celebrated for her unique style and captivating storytelling, and her other works offer a rich legacy of literary achievements to compare with “Swing Time.”

One of Smith’s best-known novels is “White Teeth,” which explores postcolonial themes and features a multicultural cast of characters. In contrast, “Swing Time” centers on two childhood friends and their complex relationship as the protagonist pursues a career in dance.

Another of Smith’s works to consider is “On Beauty,” which satirizes academic culture while exploring themes of family and relationships. In contrast, “Swing Time” has a strong focus on identity and cultural representation as the protagonist grapples with her biracial heritage.

Despite the differences, Smith’s signature style is present throughout her books, including “Swing Time.” A notable feature is her use of vivid imagery and descriptive language to create immersive settings and characters. Additionally, she is skilled at weaving in social and cultural commentary into her narratives.

Zadie Smith's other books compared to 'Swing Time'

When comparing Smith’s other works to “Swing Time,” it becomes clear that each book has its unique merits and meaning. However, “Swing Time” has its place among Smith’s best for its complex characters, themes, and strong storytelling.


Overall, “Swing Time” by Zadie Smith is a beautifully written and masterfully narrated audiobook that delves into the complexity of identity, friendship, and cultural representation. Smith’s vivid imagery and descriptive language make the audiobook experience highly immersive and engaging.

The character development, musical influences, and social commentary present in the narrative add layers of depth, creating a multi-faceted listening experience. The pacing and plot structure of the audiobook are well-crafted, contributing to the overall appeal of the story.

It is commendable that Smith has yet again produced a thought-provoking work that challenges societal norms and beliefs. The critical reception and impact of “Swing Time” are well-deserved, as it truly stands out among contemporary audiobooks.

Our final thoughts on “Swing Time” are that it is a must-listen for all who appreciate well-written, captivating stories that delve into social commentary and human relationships. The audiobook is highly recommended, and we genuinely believe that it will resonate with a wide range of listeners.

And this concludes our review of “Swing Time” by Zadie Smith. We hope that this article has provided valuable insights and recommendations for anyone looking for their next audiobook adventure. Happy listening!


What is “Swing Time” by Zadie Smith about?

“Swing Time” is a novel by Zadie Smith that explores themes of friendship, identity, and cultural representations. The story follows the lives of two childhood friends who are bonded by their love of dance but take different paths as they navigate relationships, race, and the complexities of their shared past.

Who are the main characters in “Swing Time”?

The main protagonist in “Swing Time” is an unnamed narrator, who we see grow from a young girl with dreams of becoming a dancer to a woman trying to find her place in the world. The novel also features a cast of supporting characters, including the narrator’s childhood friend Tracey and various family members and acquaintances who shape her journey.

What role does music play in “Swing Time”?

Music, particularly jazz and dance, has a significant influence on the story of “Swing Time.” It serves as a backdrop for the characters’ lives, reflecting their emotions, aspirations, and the cultural context in which they exist. The power of music to connect and separate people is a recurring theme throughout the novel.

What are some of the themes explored in “Swing Time”?

“Swing Time” delves into various themes, including friendship, the complexities of identity, race, class, and cultural representation. The novel invites readers to consider the impact of these themes on individuals and society, sparking conversations about the importance of personal growth, understanding, and the pursuit of one’s own dreams.

How is the narration style in the “Swing Time” audiobook?

The “Swing Time” audiobook is narrated with skill and nuance, bringing the story and characters to life. The narrator’s performance captures the emotions and complexities of the narrative, enhancing the listening experience and immersing the audience into the world of the novel.

What is the pacing like in “Swing Time”?

“Swing Time” features a well-paced narrative that keeps readers engaged and eager to uncover the next twist and turn in the story. The plot unfolds organically and allows for a deeper exploration of the characters’ lives, relationships, and the themes they encounter along the way.

Does “Swing Time” offer any cultural or social commentary?

Yes, “Swing Time” provides a rich tapestry of cultural and social commentary. Zadie Smith uses her storytelling prowess to address issues such as race, class, and cultural appropriation. The novel prompts readers to critically examine prevalent social constructs and offers insights into the complexities of navigating a diverse world.

How does Zadie Smith’s descriptive language enhance the “Swing Time” audiobook?

Zadie Smith’s descriptive language in “Swing Time” creates vivid imagery that transports listeners into the scenes and settings of the story. Through her words, she paints a rich visual landscape, enveloping the audience in the atmospheric world of the audiobook and enhancing the overall listening experience.

What has been the critical reception and impact of “Swing Time”?

“Swing Time” has received positive reviews from critics and readers alike, praising its nuanced exploration of themes, compelling characters, and thought-provoking narrative. The novel has made an impact in the literary world, sparking discussions about identity, cultural representation, and the power of storytelling.

How does “Swing Time” compare to Zadie Smith’s other works?

“Swing Time” showcases Zadie Smith’s signature writing style, characterized by its lyrical prose and insightful exploration of societal issues. While each of her works has its unique qualities, “Swing Time” shares similarities with her other novels in terms of depth of characterization, compelling storytelling, and thought-provoking themes.

Leave a Reply