Author: Zadie Smith
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads
Summary: One standard-issue Zadie Smith novel – lovely writing, complex themes, an engaging story, convincing characters, and a disappointing ending.
“Two brown girls dream of being dancers—but only one, Tracey, has talent…It’s a close but complicated childhood friendship that ends abruptly in their early twenties, never to be revisited, but never quite forgotten, either.” (source) Instead of growing up to be a dancer, our unnamed narrator becomes the assistant to an incredibly famous pop star. Her work completely takes over her life, but eventually presents the opportunity to visit West Africa as part of the pop star’s charity efforts.
This is the fifth novel of Zadie Smith’s that I’ve read. I’ve given two of her prior novels two stars (NW and The Autograph Man) and two of them four stars (White Teeth and On Beauty) for beautiful prose and thoughtful engagement with themes, but disappointing endings. By the time I got to this book, I was beginning to wonder if reading more of her books was just masochistic. I decided to press forward, in part because I’m a completionist, but also because her novels that I gave four stars have both really stuck with me. Even if the end of each was a letdown, Smith has an incredible gift for making the reader think about her themes of class, race, beauty, and fame in new ways. She also writes stellar dialogue, great characters, and convincing portraits of dysfunctional families.
All of those strengths I mention above were present in this story. The ending was, predictably by this point, not my favorite. I felt as though the author just got bored and stopped writing. The rest of the book was wonderful though. I found our narrator’s past relationship with Tracy and her later time in West Africa equally engaging. I couldn’t put this down while I was reading it and, like Smith’s other novels, I expect I’ll be thinking about it for a long time to come.