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There But For The: a novel

There But For The: a novel

Written by Ali Smith

Narrated by Anne Flosnik


There But For The: a novel

Written by Ali Smith

Narrated by Anne Flosnik

ratings:
4/5 (32 ratings)
Length:
7 hours
Released:
Sep 21, 2011
ISBN:
9781611746174
Format:
Audiobook

Description

At a dinner party in the posh London suburb of Greenwich, Miles Garth suddenly leaves the table midway through the meal, locks himself in an upstairs room, and refuses to leave. An eclectic group of neighbors and friends slowly gathers around the house, and the story of Miles is one told from the points of view of four of them: a woman in her forties called Anna, a man in his sixties called Mark, a woman in her eighties called May, and a ten-year-old child called Brooke. The thing is . . . none of these people knows Miles anything more than glancingly. So how much is it possible to know about a stranger? And what are the consequences of even the most casual, most fleeting meetings we have every day with other human beings?

Brilliantly audacious, disarmingly playful, full of Smith’s trademark wit and puns, There But For The is a deft exploration of the human need for separation—from our pasts and from one another—and the redemptive possibilities for connections.

Released:
Sep 21, 2011
ISBN:
9781611746174
Format:
Audiobook


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What people think about There But For The

3.9
32 ratings / 42 Reviews
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Reader reviews

  • (4/5)
    Between the main course and dessert of a dinner party at the fancy house of a couple he doesn't really know, a man goes upstairs, shuts himself into his hosts' spare room, and doesn't come out for months. But this novel isn't his story, exactly, even if he's in the center of it; it instead focuses on the stories of four people who have only slight acquaintances with him.It's an interesting setup for a novel, structurally. And I'd heard a lot of praise for Ali Smith, so I went into this expecting, or at least wanting, to like it a lot. But I have to say, by and large it kind of left me cold. It's not that there isn't good stuff in it. There are certainly moments of interesting characterization or insight, some good turns of phrase and moments of humor (although the dinner party itself was a little too cringe-comedy for my tastes). But on the whole it just feels too self-consciously clever. (It even gets a bit meta, I think, about how self-consciously clever it is, which didn't help me feel any better about it.)I'm wondering now if I didn't start with the right Ali Smith book, or if her writing maybe just isn't quite for me.
  • (3/5)
    Reviewers who loved this book made frequent references to the author's previous work, other novels, plays, puns etc. For me, that was not relevant to my reading this book. I read most of it while waiting for my kids to get out of their programs, and was not expecting to have to try so hard to enjoy a novel. The premise of the novel - a dinner guest locks himself in a room in a strangers' house - sounded very intriguing, but the guest, Miles, is almost irrelevant to the story. Four other characters, in four separate parts have their own stories, three of which brush by Miles'.

    The parts just did not come together enough for me to enjoy the whole. Perhaps if I had read the enlightening reviews first I would have liked it more, but that point is moot.
  • (4/5)
    As always in Ali Smith's works, there is much to enjoy, but I found the character of the little girl, Brooke, to be not as realistic as, say Astrid in The Accidental. The Accidental works so well because it is so deceptive in its structure and characterization. She's trying something different here, but I don't respond to it as fully as I might and so wonder if it doesn't work, or if it is simply me . . . not catching on.
  • (4/5)
    In between the main course and the sweet, one of the guests at a dinner-party goes upstairs and locks himself into the spare room. Three months later, he's still there, and his hostess is getting desperate. Yes, it sounds a bit like The man who came to dinner, and we're probably meant to notice that, but Ali Smith's take on the undislodgeable guest is a distinctly 21st-century one. Miles is a subversive figure whom we get to know through a scattering of random, anarchic acts of kindness to strangers as well as through his silent protest against the inhumanity of the most excruciatingly funny literary dinner party since Abigail's Party. The involuntary hosts, Eric and Gen (yes, this is also a book that revels in excruciatingly bad puns), inadvertently turn him into the social media phenomenon "Milo" - before they know what's happening, there's a protest camp behind their Greenwich house, and volunteers are sending food up to Miles with a basket on a rope and pulley arrangement. And Gen is on her way to making a fortune from "Milo" tee-shirts...As well as celebrating pointless acts of protest, Smith uses the Greenwich location and her subversively clever nine-year-old character, Brooke, to bring in a lot of ideas about how we perceive history and the passage of time, and about how puns and misunderstandings help us to make sense of a confusing and frustrating world. Like all Smith's books, it's ultimately about how crucial it is for human beings to act like human beings, to make time in our lives for love and laughter and trust between people. And it's enormous fun to read.
  • (2/5)
    I would have loved this book if I hadn't been put off with the main point of it: A man is at a dinner party, goes upstairs and locks himself in a room, never to come out again. I was too frustrated by the illogic of that to enjoy what else went on, revolving around this event and the people involved with it. I couldn't focus on anything else.Ali Smith is a good writer and deserves the high praise and award attention that goes her way, but you really have to be focused to enjoy it properly and even then you have to have a certain mindset going in. I love her style, I love the general ideas she puts in her books, I love the glimpses into the lives of the characters and their relationships, but I didn't love the book itself. I wanted to, but I just couldn't get attached enough. I want to give this one another try. I really think it deserves it.
  • (4/5)
    I liked much about the book yet I think it was awkward or lacking and could of used some work. Liked Brooke and May as characters. A story centered around people whose lives touched Miles in some way. Miles is an unknown guest of a dinner party. Toward the end of the dinner he locks himself in a spare bedroom. Each of the four sections are taken from the title There and but and for and the and presents a different perspective that together tell us about Miles.
  • (2/5)
    Maybe I'm just not clever enough to "get" this book. It was either way over my head or just the most inane book I've read in a long time.
  • (5/5)
    Ali Smith's novel is the type of book I look for in every genre. Whether it is mystery, romance, historical, young adult, or science fiction, a novel can be discovered that captures the life of the mind of the characters. After all, that is what the story of There but for the is all about, the rich, articulate communication inside the confines of the head and the affirmation by others of the contents.Four main characters varying in age, gender economic status, education, living style, and location have a common characteristic that is shared by the reader, a self-contained dialog. The voice in the heads of all four (five counting the reader) is not a monologue because it is spoken in sentences as if someone else can hear. Questions are sometimes answered and opinions shared as the outwardly nondescript characters speak their complex and observant language to themselves. While doing this, they maintain a largely passive countenance on the street and in the social intimacy of friends and family.Songs provide fodder for the mental conversations and, "the problem now of course is, to simply hold your horses" as the characters carefully seek (but do not always find) like-minded souls who do not mind sharing mindful information. The chance meeting of people who can trade aspects of their inner voices become the characters' (and the reader's) most important hallmarks of personal history. Often brief, the shared thoughts when they occur leave lasting traces that in retrospect are life-changing.Whether the character is young girl like 10 year old Brooke, an older woman like 80 year old May, a man in his 60s like Mark, or a woman in her 40s like Anna, there may be, if they are lucky, an internally charismatic but nebulous individual like Miles who can make statements that stimulate the characters' uttering of unedited inner observations. Whether Miles is a figment of of the characters' imaginations or they are figments of his, the communications with him face to face or symbolically are peak experiences.The story takes place in London and is told from the points of view of the four characters so vitally affected by Miles. It is a beautiful, poignant group portrait of lonely people who become remarkably courageous as they involve themselves with Miles. It is not the courage of self-serving secret criticism of other people all day while putting on good faces. It is the stepping out of the confines of the head, sending little feelers to others hoping to find kindred spirits; telling someone, There you are.But we are all at least partial shut-ins, physically and mentally. Is the shutting in an end or a beginning? For, if it is an end, then there would be no more honest conversation with others, only listening to yourself while looking out of hopeless eyes. The fact is you. Only by sharing your inner uninhibited dialog with a unique, courageous other (even symbolically like the reader of this novel) can you reveal this wonderful self-fact to the world and have that fact affirmed.
  • (4/5)
    Not my favorite Ali Smith, but she is always interesting.
  • (2/5)
    Ugh, this book was such a disappointment. It's written in four parts which correspond to the words in the title. It made very little sense at all but I kept reading in hopes Miles' reason for shutting himself in a room in a stranger's house would be revealed. Don't waste your time on this one.
  • (4/5)
    This was a hilarious varied reading. The trigger for this story is Miles, who locked himself during a dinner with the hosts in their guest room, and no longer wanted to come out. Four People try with him to talk and to elicit him out of the room. Three persons have a common connection to him from earlier times. Only the child knows him only from the said dinner. The book is therefore divided into four parts, each of these persons describe the similarities with Miles but also their peculiarities. Anne knows Miles as a teenager, as they did a trip with others. But Anna is also a word acrobat who can invent whole stories of single words and the little Brooke brings with inventing new words to laugh. Mark knows Miles only recently. He brought him to this fateful dinner. Through him we learn how the evening went. Mark also plays with the language. He constantly hears his deceased mother in the ear who is whispering in verse answers to life issues or events in his ears.By May we learn that Miles remembered with her to her deceased daughter. He visits ever since the death. Here both do not need words. May, which is in the hospital and will soon die has decided not to speak. It seems that Miles and May are very similar in that time. But that she is not alone at the anniversary of the death of her daughter, Miles has organized that someone is with her.Brooke is a very special child. She is very curious, loves to play with language and thinking very philosophical. One could call it 'precociously' almost. By her nature she can find the best 'wire' to Miles.What I like about this story, as Smith deals with the language. It is complex and funny. She ticks all what the term language can only give up.
  • (5/5)
    This book is about ... No.When I read this book ... No.The thing about this book is ... No.Every time I think about trying to sum up or explain this book I come to a stuttering halt. There's a storyline, yes of course there is. A man goes to a dinner party and partway through he goes upstairs and locks himself in the spare bedroom. But while that sounds somewhat interesting it doesn't sound like much to hang a book on, does it? And yet, Ali Smith took that simple premise and crafted a work of art that made me smile with delight to the very last page. The story is told from several points of view, which can be a mess if not done right but in this case works perfectly as each person fills in a little bit of the story that you don't get from the other perspectives. And throughout there is delightful wordplay and puns and an all-around joyful celebration of the English language that I've seldom experienced. This isn't a typical linear story, which usually sets alarm bells ringing in my stodgy brain, but in this book for me the experimental aspects only served to enhance the story that Smith is telling instead of shouting "look at me! aren't I clever!". My only regret is that I'll never be able to read it again and experience that delighted confused happiness again for the first time.
  • (5/5)
    Ali Smith's novel is the type of book I look for in every genre. Whether it is mystery, romance, historical, young adult, or science fiction, a novel can be discovered that captures the life of the mind of the characters. After all, that is what the story of There but for the is all about, the rich, articulate communication inside the confines of the head and the affirmation by others of the contents.Four main characters varying in age, gender economic status, education, living style, and location have a common characteristic that is shared by the reader, a self-contained dialog. The voice in the heads of all four (five counting the reader) is not a monologue because it is spoken in sentences as if someone else can hear. Questions are sometimes answered and opinions shared as the outwardly nondescript characters speak their complex and observant language to themselves. While doing this, they maintain a largely passive countenance on the street and in the social intimacy of friends and family.Songs provide fodder for the mental conversations and, "the problem now of course is, to simply hold your horses" as the characters carefully seek (but do not always find) like-minded souls who do not mind sharing mindful information. The chance meeting of people who can trade aspects of their inner voices become the characters' (and the reader's) most important hallmarks of personal history. Often brief, the shared thoughts when they occur leave lasting traces that in retrospect are life-changing.Whether the character is young girl like 10 year old Brooke, an older woman like 80 year old May, a man in his 60s like Mark, or a woman in her 40s like Anna, there may be, if they are lucky, an internally charismatic but nebulous individual like Miles who can make statements that stimulate the characters' uttering of unedited inner observations. Whether Miles is a figment of of the characters' imaginations or they are figments of his, the communications with him face to face or symbolically are peak experiences.The story takes place in London and is told from the points of view of the four characters so vitally affected by Miles. It is a beautiful, poignant group portrait of lonely people who become remarkably courageous as they involve themselves with Miles. It is not the courage of self-serving secret criticism of other people all day while putting on good faces. It is the stepping out of the confines of the head, sending little feelers to others hoping to find kindred spirits; telling someone, There you are.But we are all at least partial shut-ins, physically and mentally. Is the shutting in an end or a beginning? For, if it is an end, then there would be no more honest conversation with others, only listening to yourself while looking out of hopeless eyes. The fact is you. Only by sharing your inner uninhibited dialog with a unique, courageous other (even symbolically like the reader of this novel) can you reveal this wonderful self-fact to the world and have that fact affirmed.
  • (4/5)
    This is the first Ali Smith I have read, but is not her first book. Nevertheless, it seemed very fresh and full of ideas, not necessarily getting through with one major point, but starting off in many directions. Very funny, very clever, and with hgihly enjoyable characters. I have greatly enjoyed the word play partly made possible through the young girl's voice. I am very likely to read more from her, if only to see how this novel fits into the rest of her work. Notable quote: The fact is, every tree that ever lived or lives has a history just like that tree has. It is important to know the stories and histories of things, even if all we know is that we don't know.The fact is, istory is actually all sorts of things nobody knows about.
  • (5/5)
    A fascinating, unique, well constructed book filled with great writing, fresh wordplay and puns.

    Ostensibly it is the story of Miles Garth, a guest at an English dinner party who gets up from the table in the middle of the meal, walks upstairs, and locks himself into the spare room (conveniently including a stationary bicycle and an en suite bathroom). Miles stays in the room for months, barely communicating with the outside world.

    But really it is a kaleidoscope of a story around this, with short vignettes around several of the guests, people they know, jumping as far back in time as World War II, often interrupting each other with long parenthetical vignettes that last for pages. It has extensive dialogue but none of it is in quotes or indicated by any other punctuation. And in some parts the paragraphs seem to never end.

    A dialogue in the middle of the book helps explain the concept, which revolves around adding the word "but" to the end of anything, and taking the idea in new directions (e.g., "I was invited to dinner," "I was invited to dinner but I don't want to go by myself," and "I was invited to dinner but I don't want to go by myself but I have no one to invite.")

    The pieces never fully come together, we never understand exactly why Miles goes up into the room or why he eventually leaves it. But they do start to converge and disparate vignettes, characters and times are cleverly connected. And some of those characters and vignettes are particularly good, especially a precocious, young, girl Brooke who is the "cleverest" (in her words) punster and jokester and historian.
  • (2/5)
    I almost abandoned this book many times during the 275 pages but hung in there with the conviction that it would all come together and make sense before the end. Sadly, I admit that I'm just not clever enough to ascertain what the point was so ended up hugely disappointed with it.
  • (2/5)
    I don't read contemporary fiction very often because I generally find it disappointing and Ali Smith's "There But For The" was no exception. I struggled through this book and nearly stopped reading it several times.The story is about a man's absence after he locks himself in a guest bedroom in the midst of the worst dinner party ever. It's divided into four sections (There, But, For and The.) It started out as mildly amusing but as the setions wore on the book got worse and worse. The final section, a stream of consciousness rambling of a precocious preteen was barely readable.There are lots of puns and word play in this too, which presented lots of opportunities for eye rolling.If the point of it all was to long for the absence of this book from my nightstand, it succeeded.
  • (5/5)
    I found this book incredibly appealing. Through snippets of stories and various perspectives, Smith shows the ignorance, prejudice, differences and social habits to which we are all attuned but which we mostly choose to ignore.What struck me most was the silence as a common theme and how the quiet or silent characters are the ones who have the most effect, the central being of which is Miles and his strange action. Ultimately, this book is about quietness and what it can open up: everything from Gen's greediness to Josie's generosity, from Mark's kindness to Anna's re-connectedness with the past, from Brooke's young, open curiosity to May's old, questioning wisdom.Not an easy story to follow, but one that will keep readers dreaming and thinking.
  • (4/5)
    This was a really quirky but enjoyable book to read. The book is divided into four sections: there, but, for and the. Each section is about a different character and eventually you start to see how their stories connect. Much of the narrative is written as a reflection of the character for that section and the author has cleverly written commentary about language and specifically the title of the section into this narrative. The two that stick in my mind are the reflection of 'being "there" on a train' by not being distracted my making a phone call for instance and Brooke's reflections on the use of the word 'the' - leaving it out of a sentence when it is implied and then using it twice in a row when referring to the word the itself. This attention to detail gives the book a real depth. All the way through there are bits and pieces which are left unexplained. I liked this aspect too as the reader can use their own imagination to fill in the blanks.
  • (4/5)
    I'm still figuring out how I feel about this book. It almost entirely fails to deliver on its intriguing premise: a man (Miles) at a dinner party locks himself in the hosts' spare room and settles in for weeks. I was expecting this incident to be central to the book, but instead its the a hook that Smith uses to explore a handful of characters whose lives have been tangentially touched by Miles. Once I let go of my expectations though, I was swept along - the four characters we see the world through are richly drawn and engaging, the writing witty and elegant and the plot almost incidental. A few of the minor characters are broadly drawn and unsympathetic to the point of being caricatures (Richard and Jen particularly), but the central characters are so wonderful that it doesn't really matter. Enough to have me digging through the rest of Smith's work.
  • (4/5)
    "But the fact is, how do you know anything is true? Duh, obviously, records and so on, but how do you know that the records are true? Things are not just true because the internet says they are. Really the phrase should be, not the fact is, but the fact seems to be."

    It is incredibly difficult to write about Ali Smith's books. I mean where do you start? Plots are not what they seem. Plots are merely vehicles to convey sub-plots, ideas, sentiments, and impressions of the world around us.

    So writing about how There But For The tells about the story of a man who is invited to a dinner party, gets up, and locks himself into a room in his host's house for months is an inadequate description.

    Even going on to say that the book also tells the stories of the people around the mysterious hermit guest will not do. Instead, I am going to say that There But For The is a story about underdogs with at least three main characters - my favourite of which is Brooke.

    Brooke is a highly intelligent, sensitive child who is bullied by a teacher. She starts to withdraw from her peers and her family and find solace in learning about history.

    "So people in authority should be more careful because having your head on a coin doesn’t mean you are immune to history like people are immune to things they have been inoculated against by a doctor. Just because someone is in authority, for example in charge of you, and can get you by the arm when no one will know so that your arm afterwards really hurts, and shout in your ear, so loud so that it feels like a slap and your ear can feel the words in it for quite some time after, it doesn’t mean history won’t happen back to them."


    But Brooke is not set on revenge. She is compassionate, inquisitive, and caring - traits she shares with the other heroes in Smith's story.

    "What I am feeling is irrelevant, Brooke said, but if you are feeling for all those people, that is an astronomical amount of feeling.
    It is an Alps of feeling, her mother said, and what you are feeling is never irrelevant, and I feel an Alps of feeling about that too."



    And, yet, even with all those layers of characters and story lines and observing the subtleties of life yet, there is always more to an Ali Smith story than the story it self.
    There is always the writing. I love Smith's ability to use words, to play with sounds and meanings and, best of all, to conjure up images which correspond with my sense of quirky humor.

    "Now the Queen is sitting in front of a screen. There are a lot of courtiers asking her things and she is ignoring them because she is in the middle of playing Call Of Duty."
  • (2/5)
    Nope. This was a story that just did not work for me, and not just for the unconventional narration. What bugged me is what I found to be a decidedly unfocused story. More or a meandering ramble of random facts, thoughts and dialogue all jumbled together in a rush of words. Yes, the cornerstone of the story is Miles, the uninvited dinner guest who locks himself in a guest bedroom and refuses to leave. Definitely an awkward moment for the home owners, considering squatting in residential property in Britain only became a criminal offense as recently as 2012, so of course the idea for this story appealed to me. I am not sure how I was expecting the story to unfold, but what I read (listened to) was definitely not what I expected or wanted. I wasn’t expecting Smith to keep Miles “out of scene” for a big chunk of the story while the separate narratives follow their own individual focus. I also wasn’t in the mood for the very puny nature of the dialogue focused around the precocious 10-year-old Brooke. Maybe it is because I listened to the audiobook that I struggled so much, with a bunch of “said he, said she, said he, said she” starting to drone in my ears (dialogue more to be ‘read’ than ‘heard’, I think). By the end, I was just glad to be finished with the darn thing. Smith may be, as one reviewer has stated, a master of “dropped stitches” or deliberate gaps in the story where some connections don’t connect and apparent non-connections do, but for a “stories within a story” like this to work for me, I need something more that an interesting compilation of random thoughts and actions by the characters. Even the dinner party Miles excuses himself from (or maybe extracts is a better word) is just, I don’t know, a party I would have been looking for a way to leave early from myself, it was that bad. It doesn’t speak well for a book if I have to resort to reading published reviews to try and understand the theme or meaning of the story. One reviewer has stated the story is “about loss and retention: about what we forget and what we remember, about the people who pass through our lives and what bits of them cling to our consciousness.” and that language is the main web we have for holding experience together (which may explain all the darn puns and wordplay). Overall, I just did not get this one and now I am kind of leery of approaching another Ali Smith book.
  • (4/5)
    Once there was an anchorite, a cleverist, a once upon a time, and a woman lost in the confines of her head.

    “There was once, and there was only once; once was all there was.”

    There but for the grace of god go I….
    This is about compassion, empathy, understanding, putting yourself in another’s shoes.
    Walk a mile in his shoes.
    Miles’ shoes. It's about Miles. Miles of Miles. Miles towards Miles. Miles is miles away.

    Anna did it. She was overwhelmed in others' shoes. Words words words. “…the woman who had been a university professor said, it is like my chest stops and the words will not, just will not, who had proved unable to finish that sentence and say what it was that the words wouldn’t do, and about whom it was decided by Anna’s superior that she couldn’t possibly be as clever as her summary indicated, being so demonstrably inarticulate. (This woman was finally judged not credible.)" I keep completing the title in the confines of my head. “… Grace of God go I.” And there is a Grace: “Who was this Grace, who could upend dinnertime, bring her mother to the verge of tears and her father to such paleness?…Grace wasn't a person at all. Grace was a system -- Group Routing and Changing Equipment--which meant that there would be less need for telephone operators, which was the thing her mother had always been.”
    [Googled this. There was a GRACE, but it was Group Routing and ChaRging - not chaNging- Equipment. Britain’s telephone system was fundamentally changed by the introduction of trunk dialling. ’…as Subscriber Trunk Dialling was introduced, each exchange was provided with the necessary Group Routing And Charging Equipment otherwise known as Register Translators. What does this mean though? Not the first time I asked that.]

    Brook is the cleverist. There is the the. “…there are times you don’t need a the at all, and there are other times you need more than one the.” So: Brook is cleverest.

    Reading the book, assembling the words, begins to feel like I am climbing the hill to get to the hermit philosopher - the anchorite -- at the top, where I might learn about his take on the absolute truth and meaning of life. Or at least his life.
    He’s grateful for the hot tea.

    Words, words, words.
    Words will not, the words will not, words wouldn’t do.
    Wordplay.
  • (4/5)
    With typical brio and dash, Ali Smith weaves an intricate tale of coincidence and consequence set in contemporary London, mostly in and around Greenwich. A dinner party at the home of an insufferably bourgeois couple serves as the locus of interaction where Mark Palmer, Miles Garth, Brooke Bayoude (and her parents), and a number of others spill secrets and wine while Mark’s memories, insistent and poignant, pummel him, and ten-year-old Brooke’s precociousness dazzles (or annoys) and Miles transforms the evening into something remarkable by, eventually, locking himself in the upstairs spare bedroom and not coming out for, literally, months.Smith is at the height of her loquacious powers, especially (but not only) in the voice of young Brooke. This level of wit and banter, punning jokes and linguistic legerdemain, is usually reserved for BBC Radio 4 panel shows. Here, it just barely avoids becoming twee. Indeed, it might not be a style that travels well. But I liked it well enough and it certainly lends itself to superficially philosophical badinage, which might, if one were feeling generous, not in fact be considered superficial. Bring a breezy attitude to this work and you will find it may tickle your fancy or your funny bone. And on that basis, I recommend it.
  • (3/5)
    What an odd book. Oddly satisfying, too. Stream of consciousness from four different streams about someone we almost don't even see. I found myself drawn in more than I expected myself to be, even while I was reading--thinking to myself that I'm not sure I liked it but being so caught up in the story as I'm having this reaction that I almost miss my bus stop.

    The narrative felt as though it slowly unraveled in the direction of abstraction as it went along, and there were little pieces of each narrator I wish hadn't just been fragments, like each one was not given their full due. It held together, though, mostly.
  • (5/5)
    The fact is, this book makes me cry.

    The fact is, this book is about being trapped by history. Or herstory. Yourstory and mystory. It's a mystery, mystory.

    The fact is, it's brilliant (and infectious) the way Ali Smith plays with language. Puns, jokes, double entendres.

    (The fact is, although I scold myself for the hours I've spent watching the racy and historically irresponsible series The Tudors, I wouldn't have caught the reference to Thomas Tallis had I not watched the show before I read this novel.)

    The fact is, the book itself is a history trap. You start where past and present meet, move through the story, and circle back again.

    The fact is, the characters in the story are trapped because they can't let the past stay behind them, nor can they let the past and the present coexist. The past keeps intruding, unbidden, catching them by surprise because they refuse to see it. They can't move forward because they keep circling back.

    The fact is, one man finds a way out by shutting himself in until he's traveled far enough in his little room that he's ready to circle back and look his past in the eye.

    The fact is, once a person can look the past in the eye and accept that it's all the same---past, present, future, all beneath our feet in this moment---once a person can do that, she is free.

    Or at least that's what I took away from this book. That and comfort with a few more vocabulary words.
  • (4/5)
    Another of those books that I can't make my mind up about. Did I really like it or did I not? Was it a beautifully constructed book or one that is just too clever for its own good? At the moment I'm leaning to the first of those opinions and my immediate reaction on finishing it is to want to read it again more slowly. In the prosperous London district of Greenwich Genevieve and Eric Lee are giving a dinner party: their annual party where they try to invite people a little different from those that they usually see. But after the main course one of the guests absents himself from the table, seemingly to go to the bathroom. When he does not reappear it is discovered that he has locked himself in the spare bedroom. And there he stays, refusing to come out, refusing to talk to anyone or explain himself, as the days, weeks, months pass. It soon becomes apparent that even the person who invited him to the dinner party really knows very little about him, and as the owners of the house become increasingly desperate to get rid of their unwanted house guest they resort to going through the contact list on his phone to try to connect with anyone who might be able to help.The story is told, in a non-linear narrative, from the point of view of four people whose lives have interacted with the guest Miles. Anna, a forty-something woman, disillusioned with her job dealing with refugees, had met Miles on a coach tour of Europe thirty years before. Mark, a sixty year old gay photograph researcher, still mourning for his dead lover after twenty years, had invited him to the dinner party which he thought would be unbearable to attend on his own. For May Young, an eighty year old widow losing the fight with dementia, Mark had been a constant presence on a certain day of the year. And Brooke Bayoude, the precocious and clever ten year old daughter of the Lee's neighbours, who eventually shows that she has a better understanding of Miles than any of them. As each narrator tells their story we learn a little more of Miles's life but far more about the narrators themselves. This is not a book for those that like their endings neatly packaged.So far, so good. But I did have my doubts. The hostess, Genevieve Lee, seems too much of a caricature to be taken seriously. And the dinner party (narrated by Mark) was slightly too much like an updated version of 'Abigail's Party': full of awful people not knowing how awful they were. The dinner party was my main problem with the book: it seems difficult to believe that at a dinner party in Greenwich, part of one of the most multi-cultural cities in the world, the white guests would be so unaccustomed to meeting anyone who was black. From asking if the Bayoude's had ever seen a tiger 'at home' (they come from Yorkshire) to wondering why they knew so much about the culture of Northern England rather than 'their culture', the conversation doesn't seem to fit the demographics of the group. And the gay Mark and the vegetarian Miles seemingly present equal challenges.So overall an interesting and thought provoking (though slightly flawed) read and one which has certainly made me want to read more of Ali Smith's work.
  • (5/5)
    I loved this novel. P asked if she would like it and I said that I thought not, that it was "not solely plot-driven and philosophical and in people's heads a lot." Yes, well, that's a good summary after a couple of glasses of wine. Brooke is the 10-year-old narrator at the end of the book, and her voice is perfect; her critique of all things cultural, her exposure of all assumptions made, rings true and humorous and charming. The novel unfolds in four "chapters" or segments; "but" was my least favorite until the last few pages. The only glitch in this contemporary narrative is the dialogue at the dinner party that leads to Miles Garth locking himself into a bedroom of his hosts. Boring. But it picks up again by the end of that segment, and never again lets up. This is a novel about what is real; it's about metaphor and culture and history. Ali Smith loves language and she plays with it unmercifully without losing the train of the story. I laughed out loud; in the middle of the "for" chapter, I almost cried. May Young's narrative is especially moving to one, like me, who is coming to grips with late-middle-age and the prospect of death. She describes killing a rabbit in the garden and I nearly sobbed: "The gun didn't even kick. It was more a toy than a gun. But all the same the rabbit fell on its side, lay still on its side." And, on the very next page, before one has had a chance to come to terms with the fate of the rabbit, she provides commentary on the modern: "That was them these days, spending all their time looking up things on the intimate. The great-grandchildren, even, and them hardly past babies, spent their time on the intimate. It was all the intimate, and answer-phones and things you had to speak at rather than to. Nobody there." I hate to admit it, but I wondered about the amount of time I spend on LibraryThing..... Smith is a genius with words. She is genius at expressing what each of us has thought one or more times, but she makes it beautiful: "She {May} looked at the girl in the chair and she saw what youth was. it was oblivious, with things in its ears." I doubt this review is capturing the profundity or the whimsicality of this novel. It displays both and it is a delight to read. But for that boring segment at the dinner party, and I'd be giving it five stars.
  • (4/5)
    When I read The Accidental I commented that it would have been better if I hadn't read it more slowly. So I deliberately attacked this book at speed. There are four interconnected sections and I read each in a single sitting, ripping through the pages and not stopping to think about it. And enjoyed the book very much as a result. Definitely not a book to savour, but a good one all the same, and heaven help whoever gets to study this one in school at some point in the future!
  • (2/5)
    Another piece of post modern fiction. No plot, just a bunch of different point of view chapters. Reminds me of A Visit from the Goon Squad. I'm just not a fan of this style of writing.