Zadie Smith: ‘Adult friendships seem hopelessly diluted’

Zadie Smith's Swing Time is about the divergent fortunes of two childhood friends who dream of becoming dancers. We talked to the author about how our friendships shape our identities


To me friendships represent choice over birthright; they have a special kind of impact exactly because they’re not inevitable

A lot of the pairs of characters in your books are opposites – or at least they feel like them! Why is it so important that your characters have people in their lives who are so different to them?

I wouldn’t blame that on my characters! I have that sort of mind. I’m not proud of it. It’s like there’s a Hegelian triangle in the DNA of my thought: thesis, antithesis, synthesis.  I can’t help it. The essays work that way and the novels too. A boring Freudian would point to my biracial heritage which is of course the synthesis of ‘opposites’. And maybe it is as simple as that.

Are there any of your own friendships that you think have had a strong influence on shaping your personality, and your life?

Many, though some of them break the rigid separation of friend and family. My brothers – which I consider a friendship. My husband, Nick. And my best friend from childhood, Sarah Kellas.  Those seem to me to be people largely responsible for whoever it is I am. Later friendships are more about a transformation of ideas. Darryl Pinckney in New York is a ‘late’ friend and a dear one who has changed my mind about so many things. He has been my great guide in America – so much so that I placed him unchanged into a novel just for the fun of it.

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