Zadie Smith reflected on themes of nostalgia, the "back to Africa dream", and social and economic divisions in society, as she discussed her forthcoming book Swing Time (Hamish Hamilton) at a preview event held by the publisher at a Camden pub yesterday (4th August).
Swing Time is "a story about friendship and music and stubborn roots", moving between North West London and West Africa and following two black girls who both dream of being dancers, but only one has talent. It will be published on 15th November.
Smith read the first chapter to a roomful of booksellers, journalists and Penguin Random House colleagues in the Prince Albert in Royal College Street NW1.
In conversation with blogger and writer Eric Karl Anderson (LonesomeReader.com), she reflected on divisions in society today in the wake of Brexit, saying it "depresses me a little bit" that people are "opting out of a communal life". The reason behind certain kinds of nostalgia, harking back to a more "neighbourly" existence, she argued, is because it was "happy making".
"The main emphasis is always going to be on happiness," she said. "Is it making you happy? Is it happy making? I start from that perspective. I think the way people are living, these extraordinary divisions between them, even the very wealthy cannot seem to me to be covered in joy; I don't think it's making them very happy, or secure, or that they have any real relation to the world they live in.
"So [it's] time to make that argument that a little less in more directions might create a culture that feels healthier and happier. It's hard because it's counter intuitive to the way that we live, in that 'more is more is more, get what I can, get it all the time', and all the rest of it, but that's the way I feel."
Smith chatted with guests who eagerly formed a long queue to have proof copies of her new book personally signed. Proofs were handed out on the door, each in a festive bright yellow Swing Time tote.
Smith is the author of 2000 debut White Teeth, winner of the Guardian First Book Award, a third 2005 novel On Beauty, which won the 2006 Orange Prize for Fiction, and NW, published in 2012, set in north west London.