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Swing Time

Narrated by: Pippa Bennett-Warner
Length: 13 hrs and 44 mins
Categories: Fiction, Literary
4 out of 5 stars (77 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Dazzlingly energetic and deeply human, Swing Time is a story about friendship and music and true identity, how they shape us and how we can survive them. Moving from Northwest London to West Africa, it is an exuberant dance to the music of time.

Two brown girls dream of being dancers - but only one, Tracey, has talent. The other has ideas: about rhythm and time, about black bodies and black music, what constitutes a tribe or makes a person truly free. It's a close but complicated childhood friendship that ends abruptly in their early 20s, never to be revisited but never quite forgotten, either....

©2016 Zadie Smith (P)2016 Penguin Books Ltd.

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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    4 out of 5 stars

A good story, shame about the narrator

Zadie Smith has not disappointed. I wouldn't have imagined following a main character (the narrator) that seems so clueless about the world around her, be it her family, her boss, the African village where she spends weeks, or her erstwhile bff Tracey, but Smith manages to get us to tag along. And at the end of the story, she does seem to connect with reality at last!

What really spoiled my enjoyment was the reader, with her soporific tone. But that wasn't the worst. I just wish she'd refrained from doing accents, they just sounded so off and daft.

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Profile Image for Margery
  • Margery
  • 05-17-17

Smith's best yet with perfect narrator

I choose Swing Time because all my friends were raving about it. They were right! This is a gripping, perfectly-paced read which explores our main character's challenging relationships with her mother, employer and - above all - her childhood best friend. There is a toxic dimension to all these key female relationships but Smith excels in showing the complicity and complexity of each. Bennett-Warner provides the perfect reading (especially of our insecure main character) and I hope this will be the first of many recordings for audible.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Profile Image for Alan Coady
  • Alan Coady
  • 02-03-17

Parallel Lives

Would you consider the audio edition of Swing Time to be better than the print version?

I think that, in my own particular case, this is an irrelevant question. Audible suits for commuting and print versions for when I devote my full attention to the book.

Who was your favorite character and why?

The unnamed narrator's mother was my favourite character. I could sympathise with the idea put across in describing her that time spent not learning was wasted time - even if this means time spent with family and friends.

Have you listened to any of Pippa Bennett-Warner’s other performances? How does this one compare?

This was the first of Pippa Benne-Warner's narrations I've heard but I was very impressed. She seemed effortlessly to be able to supply many contrasting accents: English - of varied age, class, colour, gender; American, Brazilian, Australian, West African.

Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

Neither laughing nor crying resulted - perhaps that's being a man, or simply listening while commuting. However, I was engaged with the characters and with the many difficulties and ambitions in their lives. I experienced a life-affirming sense of life being described as it is and not as one would like it. This was especially put across in describing the difference between a feasibility study as opposed to engaging with life once in the imagined country with all the real life people, customs, weather, light, foods, smells etc.

Any additional comments?

This was the first Zadie Smith book I'd 'read' and will explore further. I saw a TV adaptation of White Teeth a few years ago and will look out the book. I will also look out for Pippa Bennet-Warner's name.

The reason I entitled this review Parallel Lives is that we explore simultaneously in this book two versions of the narrator: the up-to-date version in alternate chapters, and the younger selves which slowly grew into this character. Somehow, this seemed much more revealing that a traditional timeline approach.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Profile Image for Alice
  • Alice
  • 10-22-17

Superb performance

Zadie Smith's novel absolutely brought alive by this superb reading of Swing Time. Each character distinct and memorable. Stellar work by Pippa Bennett-Warner. A terrific listening experience.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Profile Image for NoQlu
  • NoQlu
  • 12-17-16

Couldn't stop reading

Loved the story, the subtlety of the characterisations and thoughtful insights into race celebrity, power of money. I think this is Zadie Smith's best book.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Profile Image for Tyson
  • Tyson
  • 10-22-18

Masterful

The story is outstanding yet uncomfortably close to home and well observed.
Writing is brilliant and Bennett Warner’s performance is both compelling and skilful.

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  • FJF
  • 08-23-18

excellent narrator and wonderful story

narrator was so good. really giving life to the characters. the story was great too. gently unpicking the subtleties of childhood friendships

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 08-08-18

Just brilliant

Acute observations that all can relate to here, characterisation so visual, really didn't want the story to end, sad but true to life events, narrated brilliantly, great read.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 05-04-18

Brilliant

Great writing and a perfect performance. Pippa Bennett-Warner’s read is brilliant. I highly recommend this book.

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Profile Image for Rob
  • Rob
  • 04-28-18

Really disappointing, despite a decent narration.

Zadie Smith has long been a writer I’ve admired and often loved, but this book is seriously turgid stuff. You keep waiting to care, and it never comes. The characters are mostly ciphers (often patronising ones), except for the narrator, who’s... well, *nothing*, really. She’s so boring, such a non-person.

Pippa Bennett-Warner does a creditable job (despite being a bit inconsistent with accents: the narrator’s mother often slips from her established light Jamaican-English into Bennett-Warner’s own pleasant default RP), but she can’t save this from being a really disappointing novel.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 04-28-18

confusing to follow at times

audio kept skipping parts so had to keep going back who h spoilt the story line.

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Profile Image for Fiona O'Connell
  • Fiona O'Connell
  • 01-29-17

Mixed feelings

Beautifully written - I love her character details, observations on human nature, family, cultural identity. However the book frequently swings back and forth in time and place which I find difficult with an audiobook. I found the early 'Tracy' period very engaging but the later Aimee/Africa period was ho-hum. The narrator was outstanding.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • MISS
  • 09-30-18

Wonderful story

I really enjoyed Swing Time, great performance. Three stories woven together to create all interrelated.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Profile Image for Kate J
  • Kate J
  • 05-04-19

Slow burning but vivid characters

I read 'Swing Time' over a year ago and wasn't sure how I felt about it at the time. All this time later, the characters have stayed with me so strongly I feel compelled to explore how I felt about this book.

Audiobooks are a new medium for me and this book worked well in audio. I enjoyed the narration byPippa Bennet-Warner. She had a silky British accent and skilfully subtle accents and voices for the different characters.

'Swing Time' is a bildungsroman of an unnamed narrator growing up in 1980s housing estate London. She is of mixed-race and develops a competitive childhood friendship with a neighbouring child called Tracey, who is also mixed-race. The early parts of the book focussing on their childhood is enthralling. Tracey and the narrator struggle for power dynamics in their friendship, which over time turns toxic through jealousy. They are both aspiring dancers struggling with their identity as mixed race. The narrator is jealous of Tracey's superior dance talent while Tracey is jealous of the narrator's supportive two-parent home. The girls grow up and apart - Tracey continues her dance while the narrator's life takes her across the world. Our narrator loves dance from afar and puzzles over the history of dance, it's role in life and how black people fit in. The girls encounter each other on and off over the years and remain bitterly jealous of what the other has.

Ultimately, 'Swing Time' had a far ranging, ambitious plot that had a number of successful culminations but many puzzling add-ons. Overall it loses momentum and the early stages of the book where our narrator is young promise a more hopeful and riveting conclusion. The reason this book has stayed with me is the fascinating and vivid characters that demonstrated so many lessons pertinent to relationships, identity and career in modern day life. I 'read' this book via Audible audiobook while in holiday mode, so I had the time to be patient with the tangential plot-lines and enjoy the book moment-by-moment.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 02-18-18

Great reading, okay story

The voice narrator was excellent, especially handling so many accents. The story is uneven - one half of it is great, excellent characterisation, gripping plot, but the second half of the story involving a famous dancer and social enterprise in Africa was dull and the characters felt half-fleshed. It would have been a better book without that plot line!

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  • carly
  • 02-15-18

Disappointing

Started of well and looked like it was going to be a good read but then went nowhere. I got so bored about 8 hours in, I gave up. Not recommended if you like an exciting read.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 11-10-17

Deserving Each Other.

I did not like any of the characters. Particularly the main protagonist. Great accents though.

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  • Imogen
  • 06-01-17

incredible!

I loved it. The characters were engaging, the story is light and moves well yet is incredibly insightful and broadens the listener's horizons whilst being entertaining.

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  • Rp125
  • 05-22-17

Too much waffle

This book has some good writing ie about the central relationship between two girls. But all the long winded stuff about Africa was lost on me.

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Profile Image for Peter W.
  • Peter W.
  • 03-25-17

Somewhat unfocussed novel, brilliant performance

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

To the right friend, definitely.

What was your reaction to the ending? (No spoilers please!)

I'm thinking I should go back and read the end again. A really successful novel ends with at least a suggestion of shifting to a different level achieving the focus that was implicit through the workings of the story. I did not get this at the end of swing time but I'm wondering if it was my fault so A re-read is called for.

Which character – as performed by Pippa Bennett-Warner – was your favourite?

Tracy - frighteningly forceful, sharp, Smart and confronting, and Bennet-Warner's rendering had Tracy leaping from my device.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

Most of the encounters with the main character's father, who was also extremely well captured by Bennet-Warner.

Any additional comments?

Overall I found the main character a bit depressing - always ready to be led, often bullied, and seemed to spend most of her life with bullying characters (her mother, Tracy, the dreadful Aimee). The narrator never really got my sympathy or became endearing in any way. Never seemed to find her own feet. (All this may be modified when I re-read the last couple of chapters - if so I'll come back and report the fact.)

On the other hand, ZS brilliantly captured all sorts of issues that are screaming at us in today's society - race, class, poverty, overseas aid, celebrity, the individual versus the social being - all captured in amazingly succinct fashion. For that I thank her and remain on her readers list.

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  • Aoife
  • 02-16-17

Hard to follow on Audio

I was a little disappointed as it was quite hard to follow with all of the flicking back and forth in time.
Tracey was a fairly awful person and yet the main character still referred to her as her 'spirit sister'. It seemed inconsistent and the main character didn't really seem to have any real personality or own interests or dreams of her own.
Maybe it's better to read the paperback