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The Accidental: a novel

The Accidental: a novel


The Accidental: a novel

ratings:
3.5/5 (61 ratings)
Length:
9 hours
Released:
Dec 27, 2005
ISBN:
9781598871449
Format:
Audiobook

Description

Fearlessly intelligent, disarmingly playful, The Accidental is a Joycean tour-de-force of literary improvisation that explores the nature of truth, the role of chance, and the transformative power of storytelling.

Barefoot, thirty-something Amber shows up at the door of a Norfolk cottage that the Smarts are renting for the summer, insinuating herself into their family. Dazzled by her seeming exoticism, the Smarts begin to examine the accidents of their lives under the searing lens of Amber's perceptions. When the mother Eve finally banishes her from the cottage, Amber disappears from their sight, but not—as they find when they return home to London—from their profoundly altered lives.

Released:
Dec 27, 2005
ISBN:
9781598871449
Format:
Audiobook


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What people think about The Accidental

3.3
61 ratings / 61 Reviews
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Reader reviews

  • (2/5)
    Very difficult to read but reveals humour and other treasures at a second attempt.
  • (3/5)
    I am not sure what I thought about this book. I enjoyed parts of it but it wasn't one that I didn't want to put down. I didn't understand how the people changed after meeting Amber. I may giver Ali Smith's other books a try but not positive I will.
  • (5/5)
    Brilliant! A book that expands your understanding of what it means to be human.
  • (3/5)
    This book has turned up in every list of recommended books I've come across in the last few years, eventually I had to get around to reading it. Was it as good as everyone said it was? Possibly, but it didn't really do it for me. I mostly read it a handful of pages at a time and didn't really get into the flow of it. The couple of times I picked it up and read 50 pages or so at a time I really enjoyed it - it's obviously very well written but you need to get under it's skin to like it - but most of the time I could easily put it down after five pages and the fancy writing techniques and drawn out narrative don't work on that scale.I will remember it for the following verse, taken from a section where one of the characters talks in verse, (I thought they were sonnets but I don't think they are)and everything but he felt nothing at all.He felt- awful. Her name-badge said 'Miranda'.Brave new world. He felt bad, utterly small.He magicked all his cash into her hand, asmall fortune. She straightened her overall.It was nylon. He dropped her, as if planned, alittle away from where she worked. She waved.Brave new world. Dr Michael Smart, depraved,Having spent six years rhyming Miranda (my daughter's name) and coming up only with 'veranda' and 'Uganda' I'm pleased to have found a new approach!But basically, I can see it's a great book, but it didn't work very well for me.
  • (3/5)
    A story of broken people; Eve the mother who is having writer's block, Michael her second husband who is sleeping with his students, Magnus who is suffering from guilt for his part in teasing. Amber walks into the home where the family is living on a working vacation (for the mother). No one questions her presence and she messes with all of their minds. The problem of poor communication allows this stranger to insert herself into their life. I didn't like the story much but was intrigued by the story idea. There was too much gutter talk in the dialogue which is probably stream of conscious. There is a lot of pornography reference and even too much pornography description which I think could have been omitted and still got the idea across.
  • (2/5)
    I listened to this book on audio after I had my PRK eye surgery done. The premise looked fascinating, the writing... not so much. Not a fan.

    Completely unmemorable.
  • (1/5)
    I quite simply found it to be a waste of my time. An exercise, not a novel. Annoying characters, a thoroughly ridiculous need for suspended disbelief, and no substance beyond the formal 'inventiveness' left me wanting a LOT more. I didn't hate it - but I certainly did not like it and found it to've been a waste of my time. I'll not be reading another of Ms. Smith's books, that's for sure.
  • (2/5)
    Well then....I will start with the good (it won't take long.) This book is beautifully written. This is an important point and it is the reason this is a 2 rather than a 1 star review. I often have a strong desire to hunt down writers and beat them about the head and neck with a hardcover copy of Elements of Style. This desire (for which I guess I should seek treatment) did not rear its head with The Accidental. Ali Smith's prose is dazzling. There are brief moments where it is so good that the writing itself produces a little thrill. Unfortunately there are no moments, none at all, where the characters or the story produce even the merest hint of excitement. Even good writing can't substitute for a lack of content.I am a fairly fast reader, but it took months for me to finish this book. I would put it down for a week, pick it up, and feel the sort of dread I have not felt since 12th grade AP English forced upon me Silas Marner. But as I did with Silas, I plodded through this empty wasteland. There are 5 characters in the book, and there is no way I could have cared less about any of them. I mean that in the literal sense. I did not hate or even dislike these characters because they inspired no feelings at all. Many things occur, but the author stays so detached from the events, and the characters experiencing events are so passive, that rather than being interesting they serve as nothing but symbols. (The loss of virginity by molestation, the bully's feelings when he bullies someone into suicide, the loss of all one's possessions through theft, the passive "decision" to invite strangers into your life and then allowing them to manipulate and abuse you and all your family members, all potentially meaty events.) All are here to illustrate that disasters, unplanned events, are the best things that can happen to us as humans if we get over our preconceptions and allow ourselves to accept Ms. Smith's preconceptions in their place.I am rarely sorry when I soldier through a difficult book, but I lament my lost time here. The Accidental is a lot of work for no payoff, the very definition of form over substance. Given how spectacularly good the author is at the craft of writing I will keep a bead on her to see if she ever finds fiction's soul. If that happens it will be one hell of a book.
  • (3/5)
    I really liked the writing and the characters, but just don't get stories don't quite end. I think I would have liked to know the real story, the story left unfinished. Frustrating. Hard to keep the characters and their stories in my head. p. 137 small bird blinded by sunlight into forgetting it's still in a cage. Light is part particle, part wave structure.
  • (3/5)
    Beautifully written.
  • (3/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    This book was very quirky, and there were large parts of it that I really enjoyed... but there were also parts that just seemed totally irrelevant and confusing. I was enjoying it, and then the end happened and now I just don’t know. The writing is so good. The family is dysfunctional, but in the way that many are today. I think if I wasn’t so baffled, this would have been a solid pick.

    1 person found this helpful

  • (2/5)
    Urg! The Accidental by Ali Smith will not be among my list of favorite books of the year by any means, I really struggled with this one. I felt that although the author’s writing was stellar, the book felt like she was showing the rest of us how intelligent she is and the result felt more like a writing experiment than a novel. I saw one review that called this book original, restless and morally challenging and I would agree with all of that, although to me these were not necessarily compliments.Although the story started out interestingly enough, it all too soon descended into a pointless, affected and difficult to read conglomeration of clever words and phrases. At the half way point in the book, I realized that I really didn’t have a clue as to what was going on nor did I care. I did struggle on but I more or less skimmed the last half of the book. The Accidental won many book awards and received gushing reviews from the critics so I am going to assume the fault lies with me and that this was simply too challenging a read for me at this time.
  • (2/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    Chapters are told alternately by members of the Smart family. Each one is candid, distinctive, yet prosaic. They deliver their narration in stream of consciousness style, recording each thought, memory, no matter how trifling. The collective accounts provide the complete story of events in the summer of 2003 as if from under a microscope. I can appreciate the quirky ingenuity in Smith's writing but ultimately found the novel unsatisfying and more like a writing class exercise. I wanted more interaction, fewer bodily functions.

    1 person found this helpful

  • (4/5)
    A family, fractured and potentially disintegrating, takes a holiday home in Norfolk for the summer. Eve is failing to work on her next fictionalized biography. Michael is successfully working on his next meaningless affair at the university. Magnus is dealing with his guilt over the provoked suicide of a girl in his school. Astrid is on the verge of puberty or madness, or both if they aren’t distinguishable. Four isolated and damaged individuals. And each of them will have their lives turned upside down by the arrival Amber. But is she an accidental visitor whose car has run into difficulty, or is she a deliberate intervention? Or is she something altogether extraordinary? Well, that last one is certain though just how far out of the ordinary remains unclear.Ali Smith traces Amber’s impact on each of her main characters in turn. And since they each lead such oppressively interior lives, closed off from the light of understanding or shared concern, Amber can be substantially different for each of them. And for each of them, she is just what they need, more or less. She rescues Magnus from his morbid guilty self-concern which risks leading him down the same path as his former classmate. She expands Astrid’s view outward from the narrowing lens of her dv camera into a world of humour and joy. She disdains Michael’s advances but gives him the opportunity to revel in a bit of unrequited lust, for a change. And for Eve? She knocks her on her head and challenges her inauthentic existence. Amber’s interactions go through three iterations: beginning, middle, and end. These twelve studies are bracketed by a possible origin story for Amber in a startling procreation exercise at the Alhambra Picture Palace. But what is the connection between the flickering images on the screen, the fictive reality of Eve’s own origins, and the transformative power of accident?Fascinating to read, even if I’m not entirely certain that it succeeds as a whole. But certainly recommended.
  • (3/5)
    I was mesmerized at times by the thoughts expressed by characters, completely in their world. And at other moments found myself entirely unable care about the words on the page. The multiple viewpoints/narrators was on the whole ejoyable, as was the fractured structure. Unfortunately, all these components never formed a cohesive whole. Intriguing.
  • (4/5)
    I liked this book...but not as much as Hotel World. Part of me thinks it went on too long...but I like how Smith is playful with words and kind of teases the reader. She's interesting. But I recommend Hotel World before this one.
  • (2/5)
    I will remember the book solely because of the literary devices used, imagination that comes through writing. Otherwise book wasn't particularly entertaining, something I am looking for when I read fiction. Ali Smith has divided book into three parts: The Beginning, The Middle and The End. In each part, there is a lesson from POV of each character. All characters are members of a western dysfunctional family with their individual issues. Mother is a writer, stepfather a Literature lecturer, and two kids Magnus and Astrid.

    One summer, a woman named Amber enters their lives and influences each other in her own way. This is very reminiscent of the movie 'The Page Turner' where the a girl turns up at the house of a recovering musician and assimilates in the family. The similarity sort of ends in the third part. Though Amber is a stranger, a swindler, she somehow helps each of them understand themselves and leaves an impression on each of them.

    The POV of Amber were sort of hard for me to decipher; I wondered about the intent. These chapters were amalgam of all pop cultures and bit strange. There were references to Hollywood, songs and movie directors. There was Sound of Music's story, even Mary Poppins and a reference to butter scene in Last Tango in Paris.
  • (4/5)
    A truly original and clever written book with a lot of genres interwoven in different storylines. This is real arresting storytelling. The story centers around the Smart family ( Literature professor Michael ,historical fiction writer Eve (42), Astrid (12), Magnus (17), who are during a hot summer, on holiday in a holiday home in Norfolk. One day an appealing and beautiful strange young woman, called Amber (30 something), appears at their doorstep. Her car is broken, but apparently the family members think that she has come on an appointment. Amber is a real strong character with her own laws which she follows strictly. Soon she steps over family boundaries which leads to developments and complications, sometimes hillarious and sometimes grim. But it also brings the Smart family members to an understanding of themselves. The book opens with this great sentence: "My mother began me one evening in 1968 on a table in the café of the town's only cinema". And how interesting, at page 205 I read the wonderful history of cinema that started with the invention of the Lumière brothers: "a wooden box with an eye". Rich in different stories and experimental styles.
  • (3/5)
    Eve and Michael Smart, and their children Magnus and Astrid, rent a house in Norfolk for the summer, hoping to escape the stress of everyday London life. One day a young woman named Amber appears on their doorstep, and everyone is so caught up in their own cares, each assumes she is known to one of the others. Astrid thinks she's a friend of Eve's; Eve thinks she's one of Michael's university students, etc. Amber stays for dinner, and spends the night, albeit in her car. Time passes and before you know it, Amber is firmly entrenched in their lives. She's a dubious role model and mentor to 12-year-old Amber, the object of 17-year-old Magnus' passion, and the one woman Michael wants but can't manage to seduce. Amber also becomes privy to several deep family secrets, some shared with her directly and others obtained through her powers of reason.It's all very strange, because she's not particularly likeable. You'd think one of the parents would kick her out, but every member of the family is so locked inside their own head that no one understands the effect she's having on them collectively. As Amber inserts herself into the family, she shares remarkably little about herself, and yet manages to get everyone else to let their guard down. Each family member has the chance to tell their version of the story, taking turns as narrator, which enables the reader to get just as deep into each person's psyche as Amber does. Ali Smith used very different writing styles and techniques for each character, underscoring the differences between family members. On the other hand, Amber's chapters are decidedly sparse, so as readers our understanding of her is just as limited as the family's.I was initially intrigued by Smith's quirky writing, but eventually tired of it. The story seemed about equal parts positive and creepy. Only when the family returns to London does the full impact of Amber's visit become clear, and the whole thing struck me as quite creepy indeed. And while this book gave me some interesting thoughts to ponder, I was left wishing some of the family relationships and related themes were further developed.
  • (4/5)
    Admirable, but mostly for the writing style and narrative experiments. As always, there are times Smith can almost take your breath away.The novel can be briefly described as what happens to a family of four when a stranger arrives unexpectedly and is somehow invited to stay in their home.Smith creates one fantastic and appealing character in 12-year-old Astrid Smart, but she is such a wonderful creation that the book deflates a bit each time the narrative shifts to the point of view of her family members, who to varying degrees veer between self-indulgent and sympathetic. Least successful of all, to my mind, is the character of the stranger, called Amber. Amber is a cypher, but perhaps not enough of one, as she has a confusing backstory.As a novel, "The Accidental" can't really live up to the wonderful "There But For The." But the two works are something of a piece, and "The Accidental" is well worth reading if you are a Smith fan.
  • (3/5)
    This book started off intriguingly enough, told in a very distinctive voice we soon learn belongs to Astrid, a 12-year-old on holiday with her family in a "substandard" vacation rental. She's precocious and quirky, but child narrators pretty much have to be. Then the focus bounces back and forth between Astrid, her mother (Eve), her brother (Magnus), and her stepfather (MIchael). This method of storytelling can be very effective to help the reader understand what 's going on from multiple points of view, or to give some insight into characters' motivations. However, Eve and Michael don't really have much to add. Eve is a writer with a block and not really much of a personality beyond that, while Michael is a philandering professor who seems to only think of sex (but not with any real enthusiasm).The action (if you can call it that) happens when an unknown woman named Amber happens into their household and stays because both Eve and Michael think she must have something to do with the other one, but everyone is too polite to ask at first. By the time they realize it, Amber has ingratiated herself into the family and stays until they begin to feel that she's not charmingly blunt but instead relentlessly cruel. The interactions between Astrid and Amber were the most believable and affecting. Amber's pseudo-showdown with Eve would have been something if Eve had any more texture to her than damp cardboard. Some odd stylistic choices and segues distracted from the storytelling (Michael tells a whole chapter in verse - I skimmed it; another entire chapter is made up of a sort of stream-of-consciousness mashup of movie plots - I skipped it). Summary: I enjoyed about half of it, was disinterested in about a quarter of it, and completely hated about a quarter of it.One quote from the book that caught my eye: "There are things that can't be said because it is hard to have to know them. There are things you can't get away from after you know them."
  • (3/5)
    I'm not really sure what to think about The Accidental. The story was pretty uneven for me. Some parts were captivating and other parts were downright boring and I wanted to skip over them.The story is told through each of the four members of the Smart family - mom Eve, dad Michael, older brother Magnus, younger sister Astrid. The best chapters were definitely the ones told by the kids. Magnus' teen angst and depression over thinking he caused the suicide of a classmate and Astrid's preteen randomness of thought were compelling and amusing, respectfully. The chapters told by the parents were so much middle aged rambling. The pieces of the story from Amber, the young woman who crashes the family's summer home, were odd.Amber shows up at the summer house and just walks in when the door is opened to her saying her car is broken down just down the road. Michael assumes she is there for Eve because she acts like she belongs. Eve assumes Michael invited her when she meets her later. Neither confirms with the other, so Amber stays, hangs out with the kids separately, taking them on a series of secret adventures which the parents would have freaked over if they knew about them. The parents are uncomfortable with her but neither says anything until Eve throws her out. The novel is about how Amber affects each member of the family differently and the aftermath of her being in their lives for the summer.Not sure if I recommend the book, but I can't not recommend it, either. I guess it's one of those things you have to read for yourself and decide.
  • (2/5)
    Reasonably successful writer Eve Smart, her philandering lecturer husband Michael and their family are renting a house in Norfolk when they are intruded upon by a female stranger called Amber, who proceeds to inveigle her way into their home, befriend Eve’s twelve year old daughter Astrid and seduce her teenage son Magnus.The novel is split into three sections, The Beginning, The Middle and The End in all of which each family member has a narrative strand. Astrid’s narration is initially irritating as she has a habit of using ie (or even id est) in circumstances which do not warrant it. Thankfully, she - or Smith as the author - grows out of this by The End. Each section is preceded, and hence followed, by a framing narrative in the first person from Amber’s viewpoint. (This does not illumine Amber’s behaviour overmuch.) The unravelling of the Smart family’s life under Amber’s influence is the meat of the book. There are several infelicities. Not only are a couple of characters unsympathetic but the changes of viewpoint initially jar and for a long time the lack of justification in the text irritated me. The ragged right hand margin was too much of a distraction. By The End, though, the characters (apart from Amber) are more established and these concerns fade.
  • (5/5)
    Ali Smith is very good at realistic internal monologues. She also seems to always have characters who understand or discover or completely miss what's important in life, and a character or two who is totally alive (even when, as in Hotel World, they're actually dead). She's good at representing how siblings feel about one another. In The Accidental, she illuminates a rather ordinary intellectual family's dysfunction with an "outsider" who is perfectly alive, perfectly honest, perfectly antisocial.
  • (3/5)
    Find Ali Smith quite difficult to read, but persevered and occaisionally skipped a few bits too dreamlike and seemingly not connected to the plot. It is a tale of a girl/woman Amber turning up at the holiday home of a family and interacting with each member in a fairly bizarre way. Don't think it was ever explained why. Unless it was supposed to be omniscient justice. Made me think of "an inspector calls", though it was not as structured.
  • (4/5)
    I'm not quite sure what I made of this. It's quite a "literary" book, and so takes a bit of time to get into. Each chapter is a stream of consciousness coming from one of the four main characters, so can get quite caught up in their lives. I wasn't sure it was something I wanted to get caught up in though. However I stuck it out to the end, which I found quite satisfying - both the end, and the journey.
  • (3/5)
    This is listed in 1001 book to read, so I read it. Although well written and easy enough to read, it is slow going as it is slow and boring. The plot doesn't go anywhere and the characters are not compelling enough to care about.
  • (1/5)
    This is one of the few books I have been unable to complete. I just could not get into it, I could not not connect with the characters and did not really see where the book was going.
  • (3/5)
    I had high expectations of this book but I thought the stream-of-consciousness writing style was distracting and confusing. Sometimes it seemed the author was just writing down any old random words. It's possible that there is some deeper meaning to this book, but I didn't get It.
  • (2/5)
    I had high hopes of this, given the gushing tributes on the back cover. I would be happy to accept there are probably subtleties in it that I did not appreciate but I just didn't enjoy it. There were some pieces of quite brilliant prose and characterisation, but this was let down by a plot that blew itself out like a punctured balloon,as though the author ran out of ideas and just shrugged and said 'so it all turned out OK in the end'. Oh, and whilst the writing style was certainly different, it was way too far up its own backside for my liking.