Excited to finally commit to reading a novel by a writer described as “the greatest living British author” I had hopes of reading a disparate and urgent narrative that would further enlighten me on contemporary issues of race and political power dynamics, along with the added bonus of a discourse on the history of jazz/dance. Well, the novel did just that but the delivery was surprisingly subtle, almost calming when channeled through the ruminative reflection of the unnamed narrator coming to terms with the plummet of her young life.
For me, this delivery was effective and believable. The narrator possessed a somewhat flawed but a very human characteristic in that she withheld the total pursuit of her greatest strengths not out of fear of meeting expectations, but out of what I believe to be her rejection of reducing herself to a status rewarding occupation. From her talent as a singer to her incredible powers of observation, her neglect in perusing these talents shows that the narrator is always in the state of testing out ideas on culture, politics, and friendship, to see how they fit into her identity. When they don’t fit she moves on in her pursuit of something most young adults yearn to find: one’s tribe.
Though the plot of this novel seemed predictable in stretches (no spoiler alert here, we all knew Aimee would use her lethal combination of clout and cluelessness to adopt a West African baby) the supporting cast was not as contrived as they appeared. For example, in one of Aimee’s moments of clarity, she removes herself from her entitled “pull up your boots” mentality to reveal a concept that pairs rather well with the unnamed narrator’s rejection of anything that makes her easily defined in terms of identity. Aimee believes that our differences are never structural or economic, but rather a difference of personality.
I feel that this concept ultimately plays out through the narrator’s story. When she ascends the public housing system that she was born into she does not carry the assumed socioeconomic traits that come with it to her glamorous position as an assistant to the world’s biggest pop star. What’s even more beyond prediction is that she does not take on the attitudes that one might when attaining a posh economic status. Rather, she is generally ambivalent about it and essentially remains the same person that was revealed to us in the opening pages of the novel. She is still in the shadows of her best friend Tracey, forever trying to be near the light of her and her former tribe, the dancer: “a person from nowhere, without parents or sibling, without a nation or people, without obligations of any kind.”