On Zadie Smith
Swing Time is the first of Smith’s books to abandon the omniscient third person and restrict itself to a single first-person narrator, a shift that has a seismic effect on the novel. As in Smith’s previous novels, the narrator is responsible for harmonizing a multiplicity of disparate voices and positions. But by assigning this mediating function to a flesh-and-blood character, Swing Time presents it in a new light. Rather than an all-seeing eye, the narrator is now a fallible individual with a necessarily limited perspective. The opposing voices she holds in suspension are no longer abstract — instead, they are attached to specific people, namely her estranged parents. The insistence on seeing both sides, previously a transcendent principle in Smith’s work, here looks more like the survival mechanism of a child of divorce trying to reconcile her parents’ competing claims on her affection.