Jonathan Franzen

Zadie Smith's 'Swing Time' is a tour-de-force

Zadie Smith's 'Swing Time' is a tour-de-force

If ever a novel conjured a sound and dance track, it is “Swing Time,” a multilayered tour-de-force from Zadie Smith. She begins with an epigram from northern Nigeria: “When the music changes, so does the dance.”

At its cerebral core burns a lifelong rivalry between two girls growing up in shabby northwest London of the 1980s: Tracey can dance, the girl telling the story cannot. But she is a student of the form, studying old film clips and dance biographies, scouring them as her Talmudic key to “achieve anything in this world.”

One exemplar is Fred Astaire. “I became fixated, too,” the narrator confides, “upon Katharine...