Book Review: There But For The by Ali Smith

Title: There But For The
Author: Ali Smith
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Books
ISBN: 978-0241144541
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 364
Price: Rs. 550
Source: IBN Live
Rating: 4/5

I was initially intrigued by the plot: a friend of a friend brings a stranger to a dinner party. Halfway through, this stranger goes upstairs to the spare room, locks the door and won’t come out. No one knows why, and months pass with him still in there and no one any the wiser. It made me think a little of The Slap – an incident at a social gathering that then has reverberations in the lives of every person who was present.

There but for the isn’t quite like that though. It doesn’t follow any linear conventions. There were parts of the novel that were truly compelling, others fell very short because, to be honest, I couldn’t make a lot of sense of them. Having said that, it is no easy task to write such a book. It is brilliantly told – there were times I had to literally stop reading, just to make sense of the book and what was happening.

The characters are quirky and fully formed. One of the highlights of the book is where over about 40+ pages we are at the dinner party with all the guests on the evening everything happened.This could have been really dull because it’s full of random conversation pieces, bits of politics, buts of `world issues’, drunken embarrassing over sharing and accidental stereotyping. It’s entertaining, its maddening, its funny, its sad, most of all its insightful – especially in how much is said by what’s unsaid. I had a feeling of `uh-oh’ when it started but I utterly loved it. I don’t think I have read anything quite like it. It’s a piece of writing that some authors would have given their writing arm to, well, write. It’s intricate.

The novel works on many levels – it is a book of language, experience and thought. It makes you want to think from the outside-in perspective and that I found quite amusing when reading the book. “There But For The” is yet another novel by this amazing author. Smith writes the way i think. She writes about the inner voices in our heads and hearts. She forgets the boundaries of punctuation and grammar and spins out words that weave together in such a connected way that I’m always blown away.

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