The New York Times
There but for theby Ali Smith
When a dinner-party guest named Miles locks himself in an upstairs room and refuses to come out, he sets off a media frenzy. He also sets in motion a mesmerizing puzzle of a novel, one that harnesses acrobatic verbal playfulness to a truly affecting story.
Miles communicates only by cryptic notes slipped under the door. We see him through the eyes of
When a dinner-party guest named Miles locks himself in an upstairs room and refuses to come out, he sets off a media frenzy. He also sets in motion a mesmerizing puzzle of a novel, one that harnesses acrobatic verbal playfulness to a truly affecting story.
Miles communicates only by cryptic notes slipped under the door. We see him through the eyes of four people who barely know him, ranging from a precocious child to a confused elderly woman. But while the characters’ wit and wordplay soar, their story remains profoundly grounded. As it probes our paradoxical need for both separation and true connection, There but for the balances cleverness with compassion, the surreal with the deeply, movingly real, in a way that only Ali Smith can.
The New York Times
—Publishers Weekly [HC starred review]
A Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2011
“There but for the is a brilliant title for a brilliant novel. Ali Smith invents new forms of fiction in the interstices between parts of a sentence – commenting "but the thing I particularly like about the word but … is that it always takes you off to the side …" The story is about a man who leaves a tedious dinner party, locks himself into a bedroom and refuses to leave. His hostess calls in the press and he becomes a cause celebre. He is put together in a series of stories from different, tangential points of view. The novel is both funny and moving – it succeeds because of Smith's extraordinary skill with ordinary language.” –A.S. Byatt, The Guardian (London), Best Books of 2011
“To read a book by Ali Smith is to become an unabashed fan of her clever wordplay, her inventive prose, her concern for the ethical collapse of the lives of ordinary people. . . . As wickedly ingenious a novel as is likely to be found this season. . . . Exhilarating. . . . At a time when technology is separating us, changing our language and our histories, we must listen to Ali Smith. We must heed her cautionary comments on the human need to be individuals and the human need for connection. Otherwise, There but for the.” –Anniston Star
“Ali Smith’s clever, by turns whimsical and subtly wrenching fifth novel, There But For The, is another book that sends you back to the beginning once you’ve reached the end, both to connect the dots of her intricately structured story and to marvel at what she has pulled off. . . . With her penchant for wordplay on full display, the author of The Accidental switches between the perspectives of four people whose lives have been peripherally touched by her gentle shut-in, a man who, like J.D. Salinger’s Seymour Glass, has perhaps too much heart to survive comfortably in a hard world. These appealing characters include a ‘preternaturally articulate’ 9-year-old, one of literature’s most beguiling little sages since Salinger’s Esme.” –Heller McAplin, NPR “Five 2011 Books That Stay With You”
“Quirky, intricately put together. . . . A book 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. . . . Ms. Smith is brilliant at leaving things out and forcing the reader to make connections, so that, for example, the remaining words of the title phrase (‘grace of God go I’) go without saying. . . . Language here also proves itself to be dense and referential, capable of making unexpected connections and of imprinting itself feelingly on the mind in a phrase, a rhyme, a snatch of song lyric.” –Charles McGrath, The New York Times
“Those who have read [Smith’s] previous novels (including The Accidental and Hotel World) will tell you that she’s a rare talent, and in There but for the she stretches that talent in ways you’d never have imagined. You can almost feel Smith flexing her writerly muscles as you turn the pages. From the enigmatic opening onwards, it’s clear that this won’t be your typical novel, and Ali Smith isn’t your typical wrier. . . . As challenging as it is confounding, weaving four separate stories around the central spindle of Miles Garth. . . . It’s the kind of philosophical tour de force that we’re more used to seeing from the likes of Paul Auster, but in Ali Smith’s hands it also acquires a humanity and a tenderness that feel utterly new. Smith’s love of language shines through too, as she mixes local vernacular with higher registers, creating a vibrant patchwork of words that knits together her themes and ideas in unique fashion. . . . A fascinating read, even if you don’t want to delve into its meta-narrative, and Smith has such a way with words that even the most mundane act can become poetry in her hands. Like Miles Garth himself, her invisible hand creates ripples that will mesmerize and enthrall you from start to finish.” –Culture Mob
“A beguiling ode to human connection shot through with existential wonder and virtuosic wordplay. If you fell for Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad, you’ll appreciate Smith’s formal twists and turns—and there’s more where There came from.” –Time Magazine
“It is with this word play, repetition, rhyme, and rhythm that Smith proves herself one of the ‘cleverist’—a British author at the top of her game who combines eccentricity and originality in equal measure. And, as I discovered when I heard her reading from the opening pages last week with a cadence rarely found in a fiction writer, There but for the is a story quite literally crying out to be heard. Here we have a novel, and a novelist, delighting in the joy of language itself.” –Lucy Scholes, Daily Beast
“Ambitious, rambunctious, and poetic. . . . [Smith] makes use of what have become her trademarks—a narrative trickiness in which any given story may be incomplete, and a certain linguistic playfulness, which in this case includes puns, Lewis Carroll-like absurdist banter, and conversations that read like transcripts, a trick that has the interesting effect of making them sound familiar and odd at the same time. . . . Smith is good at pulling a surprise, especially a tragic one, out of nowhere, to get you in the gut. . . . Smith’s people sound real when they talk, and so do the thoughts as they flow through their heads. . . . Contains all the real, solid stuff of a novel. It satisfies, it enlightens, and there’s a surge of wonderment and poignancy beneath the narrative that continually springs up.” –Katie Heagele, Philadelphia Inquirer
“Exceedingly clever and subtly wrenching. . . . Structurally, this novel is a marvel. Smith has interwoven multiple points of view before, but this time her shifts in perspective are just disorienting enough to keep readers on their toes. And she slyly slips in significant information, at times before we’re ready to understand its full import, an approach that makes the eventual aha moments especially satisfying. “There but for the” packs an emotional wallop in part because it engages us to read more actively. Smith prompts readers not just to connect the dots of her story but to assemble the pieces of her title and supply the implied words: …grace of God go I.’ –Heller McAlpin, The Washington Post
“Ali Smith’s weird and wonderful puzzle of a fifth novel is ostensibly about a dinner-party guest who locks himself in a spare bedroom and refuses to come out, inadvertently sparking a media frenzy. But the book—packed with jokes and random facts—is really about small stuff like life and death and the meaning of human existence, all told with sharp humor and real insight. The novel itself is a riddle with no solution, which is exactly the point: When you reluctantly come to the end, you can’t help going back to the beginning, trying to unravel this beautifully elusive book’s mysterious spell.” –A-, Entertainment Weekly
“Masterful. . . . Rapidly gains momentum, turning a simple tale into something ambitious and grounded. . . . As much as There But For The is about the connection and memory in a narrative sense, its love of language is even more impressive. Smith uses a constant internal monologue to depict her characters, without external narration, and they jump from word to word, pun to pun, or in one case, conversation with the imagined dead to conversation with the living. The wordplay is often a delight on its own, but Smith also uses it to great effect for revelations in the story.” –The A.V. Club
“A marvel of a novel, sweeping in purpose (what is the meaning of life, of history, of our presence or our absence) and magnetic in both the presentation of its cast and characters and the unfolding of its deceptively simple plot. . . . The writing in There But For The is lovely, the imagery sharp and moving, and the flow unstoppable. . . . I simply could not put this book down, other than to place it on my lap while I worked out the pieces of the puzzle. . . . Smith is also unabashedly aware and even proud of the quirks and thrills of the human mind, of how we can make up songs and puns and jokes, create connections out of chance meetings, and care, really really care, about both our history and our future.” –Nina Sankovitch, Huffington Post
“Quirky. . . . As intriguing—and clever—as its title.” –Counterpunch
“Ali Smith loves words. She loves playing with them, calling attention to them, listening to them as if they were members of a vast extended family, each precious in its own right and she their fair-minded parent, determined not to play favorites. She can give the word ‘but’ such a star turn that you wonder why you’d ever taken it for granted. Smith’s love of language lights up all her books. . . . Smith’s wordplay never comes at the expense of the many other facets in her complicated creations—characters, places, ideas. . . . . A witty, provocative urban fable. . . . If you enjoy surprising, often comic insights into contemporary life, she’s someone to relish. . . . When the narrative turns to the elderly May, Smith’s expansive humanism returns in a wonderful, complex account of this vibrant character, one that touches on aging, family ties, death and ‘the intimate.’ . . . [A] lively, moving narrative. . . . . All the likable characters in There but for the enjoy a good verbal game, most happily with someone else. It is as though playing with language is what enables them to make their way through a complicated world. It’s a knack that might also be picked up, most enjoyably, by reading Ali Smith.” –Sylvia Brownrigg, The New York Times Book Review
“Sophisticated, playful. . . . Exhilarating. . . . In her astonishing, light look at the human need for separation—for a closed door—and its counterpoint, the need for connections, Smith blasts a window open in our heads.” –The Plain Dealer
"British author Ali Smith has never been what you’d call a conventional novelist. Whether she is using a hotel as a metaphor for the various stages of life, examining the impact of uninvited guests or re-envisioning a classic Greek myth, Smith has proved she isn’t afraid of taking chances or pushing boundaries. Smith’s novels tend to begin with a slightly outlandish but irresistibly intriguing premise. . . . Leave it to Smith to take a seemingly simple and straightforward (and absurd!) idea and transform it into anything but. . . . This is a novel that is deeply cerebral and is guaranteed to get your synapses firing. For those who relish a bit of an enigma and are looking for something extraordinary when it comes to fiction, There But For The delivers in spades." —Bookpage
"Exhilirating." —Marie Claire
"Like several recent novels, notably Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad, Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, and Tom Rachman’s The Imperfectionists, this work is a collection of interlocking stories organized around a single theme and featuring multiple characters. . . . Smith…deftly satirizes our media-saturated environment, using an oddball cast of characters to point out the difficulty we have in making genuine human connections and demonstrating how beautiful and rare it is when we actually succeed. The passage of time is a constant underlying preoccupation as well, as befits the setting—home of the Royal Observatory, which established Greenwich Mean Time. . . . This is a delightful, beautifully written, touching novel that will strongly appeal to lovers of language and wordplay." —Library Journal
"With its shifting points of view, Smith (The First Person: and Other Stories, 2009, etc.) displays a virtuoso gift for channeling her character's inner voices. Happily, the book manages to wear its profundity lightly. . . . [An] offbeat exploration of the human need to connect with others." —Kirkus Reviews
"This startling lark from Smith (The Accidental) is so much more than the sum of its parts. Both breezy and devastating, the novel radiates from its whimsical center: Miles Garth, a dinner party guest, decides to leave the world behind and lock himself in his hostess’s spare room, refusing to come out and communicating only by note. Four charmers with tenuous links to Miles, nicknamed Milo by the growing crowd camped outside the suburban Greenwich London house, narrate the proceedings: Anna, a girl who knew Miles briefly in the past; Mark, a melancholy gay man who Miles met watching Shakespeare at the Old Vic; May Young, an elderly woman who Miles helped grieve her daughter’s death; and the wonderful, "preternaturally articulate" Brooke, arguably the cleverest 10-year-old in contemporary literature. Together, they create a portrait not so much of Miles—because none of them really knows him—but of the zeitgeist of their society. In a lovely departure, and in spite of the fact that there is not one ordinary, carefree character in this whole tale, all parents are literate, loving, and tolerant: though Mark is exhausted and sad, his famous mum speaks to him, in verse no less, from beyond the grave; though May is trapped in dementia, she was a kind mother to her ill-fated daughter; and though Brooke is clearly plagued by attention deficit disorder and is misunderstood and disliked at school, her parents love her dearly. This fine, unusual novel is sweet and melancholy, indulgent of language and of the fragile oddballs who so relish in it." –Publishers Weekly (starred and boxed review)
“There But For The will remind you what a joyful activity reading truly is. Nobody writes with more panache. You learn so much from an Ali Smith novel, you laugh so hard and are filled with such intellectual and spiritual nourishment, and all you want to do when you’re finished is go read another one.” —Sigrid Nunez
“In There But For The Ali Smith displays her usual fizz and artistry. She always surprises, she never disappoints.” —Kate Atkinson, author of Started Early, Took My Dog
“A British literary phenom, Smith sets her third novel at the posh London suburban home of the Lee family, who are throwing a dinner party one night when guest Miles Garth goes upstairs and locks himself in a room. While his host, her daughter, an old school friend, and the Lees’ neighbor all try to coax him out, he communicates only via notes passed out under the door, resulting in a game of words as engaging for the reader as for Miles’ unwitting hosts.” –The Millions, Most Anticipated: The Great Second-Half 2011 Book Preview
"By times amusing, engaging and edifying, it is punctuated with Smith’s arid observational wit, her ability to dissect language, to turn it inside out and upside down." –The Irish Independent
"A tribute to persistent literary, cultural and philosophical leitmotifs. . . . Smith unleashes a quest on the nature and meaning of time, memory, history, art, culture, civilisation, death, loss, life and living — with a scintillating satire on contemporary society and a pilgrimage through popular culture." –The Indian Express
“A warm, playful, dazzlingly written modern fable . . . Memory, nostalgia, the sense of growing older, of things passing, the disappointments of adult life—the themes are handled lightly, but are built up, layer on layer, with cunning care. The increasing shabbiness of modern life is a recurring motif, the internet not least, which “promises everything but everything isn't there,” and which ends only by offering a “a whole new way of feeling lonely.” —The Irish Independent
“You could call Ali Smith’s new novel, There But For The, a tragicomedy . . . The fun comes in the form of Smith’s satire of the media . . . of new technology users and of upper-middle-class snobbery . . . Though the locations shift and characters appear out of nowhere, Smith agilely keeps the narrative together. Everything connects—even if the people can’t. A must-read.” —Toronto NOW
“A satire on the conflict between the bourgeois lifestyle of the Lees and the anarchic goings-on of Miles and other lesser characters. If you liked Smith’s earlier fiction, you will know she enjoys setting up a situation before chucking in a literary Molotov cocktail then describing what happens. . . . A highly original novel.” —The Sunday Express
“The novel examines people’s perceived and inner identities, especially relating to their place in the world, and brims with playful language exploring the meaning behind words and actions, taking apart the middle-class pretensions that the characters are trapped within. It’s a strong offering that dissects the heart of modern life.” —The Huddersfield Daily Examiner
“Off-the-wall imagination and some scintillating wordplay . . . A barbed satire on our times, the growing absence of opportunity for quiet reflection and our inability to truly communicate with one another in the age of the mobile phone and the internet. . . . Smith’s ear for natural dialogue from completely different social milieus is unerringly accurate. Those who take the plunge ready to go with the flow will not be disappointed.” —Daily Mail
“A virtuoso piece of writing, both funny and gripping . . . Smith is a writer with a rich array of conventional strengths . . . Her prose responds to the world with loving attentiveness . . . One of the great pleasures of her work is its harmonious mixture of pure lyricism and straightforward demotic . . . Some of the best, or at least the finest writing in There But For The has to do with the effects on the mind of living in the Internet age.” —The Times Literary Supplement
“The fascination with language—a central preoccupation in almost all of Smith’s stories—is evident here . . . It is more than simple word play. The semantic and structural disruption, starting with the novel’s unfinished title, reflects its anarchic intent—to disrupt the comfortably smug, middle-class sensibility personified by Genevieve and her dinner party set, with their stultifying prejudice and snobbery . . . Along with her cleverness and wordy wit, there is a bewitching romanticism to Smith's world, where people truly connect and leave tender imprints on each other. Both she, and they, also tell stories-within-stories.” —The Independent (London)
“Stylish, witty, offbeat and consummately likable, Ali Smith has perfected a narrative tone ideally suited to her wry, intelligent fiction. Yet another of the talented Scottish writers, Smith is a shrewd observer, loves facts, is playfully, if astutely, alert to nuance, and never takes herself too seriously, which explains why she can hold a reader with the lightest of touches . . . Ali Smith . . . is always good company.” —Irish Times
"A playful yet erudite celebration of words. . . . Smith’s prose is not just supple, it’s acrobatic: one minute providing crisp realism—cocky teenagers, unspoken homophobia, university bureaucracy—the next a hypnotic stream-of-consciousness. Smith can make anything happen, which is why she is one of our most exciting writers today. . . . [Her] dizzying wordplay makes the real and surreal equally stimulating." —Lucy Beresford, The Daily Telegraph (London)
"You rarely get bombs or tornados or motorway pile-ups in Ali Smith’s books, but the results of inner turmoils within her characters can often be just as devastating. In There But For The, nuances and shades and intricacies stack on top of one another to reveal some valuable truths about the way we live now. . . . At the core of the book is a feeling that while our means of communications have become more sophisticated, shinier and quicker, true connections are harder to maintain. . . . Our physical and philosophical breakdowns are sharply satirized in this almost mythical narrative dreamed up by one of contemporary literature’s most deft and astute analysts of human nature. Another Booker nomination may well await." —Brian Donaldson, The List (UK)
"A winsome, compelling read. . . . Smith’s version [of the English dinner party] is a tour de force. . . . The prose is playful, intelligent and witty." —Lionel Shriver, Financial Times
"A seriously playful puzzle of a novel. . . . Whimsically devastating. . . . Smith is repeatedly drawn to explorations of language games, to the moment in which what we say slips free from what we think we mean, where the generic becomes the particular, where the identity of the speaker comes under scrutiny. . . . Playful, humorous, serious, profoundly clever and profoundly affecting." —Alex Clark, The Guardian (London)
"Smith fans will recognize familiar character tropes—the autobiographical free-spirited, savant child, the enigmatic stranger, the talkative dead—from Smith’s earlier works and no doubt delight in Smith’s celebratory, sometimes Rabelaisian…wordplay. . . . She’s on the money, in her satirical, at times painfully acute, observations of haute bourgeois London life and this reader delighted, too, in the vividly contrasting portrait of the high-spirited, fearless, untrammeled Brooke. . . . Her ludic delight in language and in the texture of ordinary lives are both sublimely infectious. . . . Interactive and willfully democratic, There But For The is an uncompromising and original 21st-century novel. There’s no ego here, just an invitation to join the fun. I take my hat off to Ali Smith. Her writing lifts the soul."—Melanie McGrath, The Evening Standard (London)
"This is a thought-provoking and engaging book…If there’s any justice it must be a contender for one of this year’s literary prizes." —Daily Express
"Ali Smith’s dazzling, spry novels and stories are fond of such bizarre opening gambits, tested and stretched for their narrative and thematic possibilities almost as a game, or a fictional constraint: imagine if. . . . Figures of speech and verbal tics, and wordplay that startles in the way that poetry does, attentive to the minute ways words fall against each other. . . . There is something deeply democratic about [the book’s] interest in the little words, conjunctions and prepositions, and how they change the way we construe the world. . . . This is a novel deliberately informed by song. . . . A very artful and thought-provoking book." —Lucy Daniel, The Sunday Telegraph (London)
"A book full of kindness and compassion . . . The painful realities cleverly contrasted with surreal touches never fail to satisfy." —Time Out London
"A playfully serious, or seriously playful, novel full of wit and pleasure. . . . The pleasures here are in the small moments, the interest she takes in the tiniest words. . . . There are some wonderful disquisitions on our cultural idiosyncrasies. . . . Appealing and painful observations on the temporary permanence of our lives." —Sarah Churchwell, The Observer (London)
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Read an Excerpt
was once a man who, one night between the main course and the sweet at a dinner party, went upstairs and locked himself in one of the bedrooms of the house of the people who were giving the dinner party.
There was once a woman who had met this man thirty years before, had known him slightly for roughly two weeks in the middle of a summer when they were both seventeen, and hadn’t seen him since, though they’d occasionally, for a few years after, exchanged Christmas cards, that kind of thing.
Right now the woman, whose name was Anna, was standing outside the locked bedroom door behind which the man, whose name was Miles, theoretically was. She had her arm raised and her hand ready to – to what? Tap? Knock discreetly? This beautiful, perfectly done-out, perfectly dulled house would not stand for noise; every creak was an affront to it, and the woman who owned it, emanating disapproval, was just two feet behind her. But it was her fist she was standing there holding up, like a 1980s cliché of a revolutionary, ready to, well, nothing quiet. Batter. Beat. Pound. Rain blows.
Strange phrase, to rain blows. Somewhere over the rainblow. She didn’t remember much about him, but they’d never have been friends in the first place if he wasn’t the sort to enjoy a bad pun. Was he, unlike Anna right now, the kind of person who’d know what to say to a shut door if he were standing outside one trying to get someone on the other side to open it? The kind who could turn to that child stretched on her front as far up the staircase as her whole small self would go, the toes of her bare feet on the wood of the downstairs hall floor and her chin in her hands on the fifth step lying there watching, and straight off be making the right kind of joke, what do you call two mushrooms on holiday? Fun guys, straight off be holding forth about things like where a phrase like to rain blows came from in the first place?
The woman standing behind Anna sighed. She somehow made a sigh sound cavernous. After it the silence was even louder. Anna cleared her throat.
Miles, she said to the wood of the door. Are you there?
But the bleat of her voice left her somehow less there herself. Ah, now, see – that’s what it took, the good inappropriateness of that child. Half boy, all girl, she’d elbowed herself up off the staircase, run up the stairs and was about to hammer on the door.
Bang bang bang.
Anna felt each thud go through her as if the child were hammering her on the chest.
Come out come out wherever you are, the child yelled.
Open sesame, the child yelled.
She had ducked under Anna’s arm to knock. She looked up at her from under her arm.
It makes the rock in the side of the mountain open, the child said. They say it in the story, therefore the rock just like opens.
The child put her mouth to the door and spoke again, this time without shouting.
Knock knock, she said. Who’s there?
There were several reasons at that particular time in Anna Hardie’s life for her wondering what it meant, herself, to be there.
One was her job, which she had just given up, in what she and her colleagues laughingly called Senior Liaison, at what she and her colleagues only half-laughingly called the Centre for Temporary Permanence (or, interchangeably, the Centre for Permanent Temporariness).
Another was that Anna had woken up a couple of weeks ago in the middle of her forties in the middle of the night, from a dream in which she saw her own heart behind its ribcage. It was having great trouble beating because it was heavily crusted over with a caul made of what looked like the stuff we clean out of the corners of our eyes in the mornings when we wake up. She woke up, sat up and put her hand on her heart. Then she got up, went to the bathroom mirror and looked. There she was.
The phrase reminded her of something Denny at the Evening News, with whom she’d worked on neighbourhood liaison pieces and with whom she’d had a short liaison herself, had told her some time ago, on their second and last lunchtime. He was a sweet man, Denny. He’d stood in front of her in her kitchen, their first time, and presented his penis to her very sweetly, rueful and hopeful both, a little apologetic about his erection and at the same time proud of it; she liked this. She liked him. But two lunchtimes was all it was, and they both knew it. Denny had a wife, her name was Sheila, and their two girls and their boy were at Clemont High. Anna made a pot of tea, put sugar and milk on the tray because she wasn’t sure what he took, carried it upstairs, slid back into the bed. It was a quarter past one. They had just under half an hour left. He’d asked could he smoke. She’d said, okay, since it’s the last lunch. He’d smiled. Then he’d turned over in the bed, lit the cigarette, changed the subject. He’d said did she know he could sum up the last six decades of journalism in six words?
Go on then, she said.
I was there. There I was, he said.
It was a commonplace, he said. By the middle of the twentieth century every important report put it like this: I was there. Nowadays: There I was.
Soon it would be seven words, Anna said. The new century had already added a seventh word. There I was, guys. She and Denny had laughed, drunk their tea, put their clothes back on and gone back to their different jobs. The last time they’d spoken was some months ago, about how to handle the story with the local kids giving urine to the asylum kids in lemonade bottles to drink.
In the middle of the night, some months later, holding her own heart, feeling nothing, Anna had looked at herself in the mirror in the bathroom. There she was. It was the there-she-was guise.
There she was again, then, two evenings ago, sitting in front of her laptop one summer evening with the noise of Wimbledon coming from neighbours’ TVs through the open windows of the houses all around. Wimbledon was on her own TV too. Her own TV’s sound was turned down. It was sunny in London and the Wimbledon grass was still bright green, only a little scuffed. The TV screen flickered away by itself beyond the laptop screen. Pock noises and oohs and ahs, strangely disconnected from their source, accompanied the little noises she was making on her keyboard. It was as if the whole outside world was TV soundtrack. Maybe there was a new psychosis, Tennis Players’ Psychosis (TPP), where you went through life believing that an audience was always watching you, profoundly moved by your every move, reacting round your every reaction, your every momentous moment, with joy /excitement / disappointment / Schadenfreude. Presumably all professional tennis players had something like it, and maybe so to some extent did everybody who still believed in God. But would this mean that people who didn’t have it were somehow less there in the world, or at least differently there, because they felt themselves less observed? We might as well pray to the god of tennis players, she thought. We might as well ask that god as ask any other for world peace, to keep us safe, to bring all the birds that’ve ever died, ever sunk into dust via little mounds of feather and crumbling hollow little bones, back to life, perch them all on that sill right now, the small ones at the front and the large ones at the back, and have them sing a rousing chorus of Bye Bye Blackbird, which was a song her father used to whistle when she was a little girl, and one she hadn’t heard for many years. No one here to love or understand me. Oh what hard-luck stories they all hand me. Was that it? Something about hard-luck stories, anyway. Just as she was about to look the lyrics up on the net new mail came pinging into her inbox with an electronic little trill.
The new mail was quite a long email which Anna nearly mistook for the please-transfer-money-to-this-account-because–I-am-dying-and-need-your-help kind. But she paused her finger above delete when something about it caught her eye. It was addressed to her with the correct first name but the wrong surname initial. Dear Anna K. It was both her and not her, the name. More: something about it made her feel super-eighted, instamaticked. It gave her a feeling something like the word summer used to. Most of all it reminded her of an old spinebent copy of a Penguin classic paperback by Kafka, yes, Franz Kafka, which she had read one summer when she was sixteen or seventeen.
From the Hardcover edition.
Meet the Author
Ali Smith is the author of eight previous works of fiction, including the novel Hotel World, which was short-listed for both The Orange Prize and the Booker Prize and won the Encore Award and the Scottish Arts Council Book of the Year Award, and The Accidental, which won the Whitbread Award and was short-listed for the Booker Prize and the Orange Prize. Her story collections include Free Love, which won a Saltire Society First Book of the Year Award and a Scottish Arts Council Award, and The Whole Story and Other Stories. Born in Inverness, Scotland, Smith lives in Cambridge, England.
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Worst. Book. Ever. I wish I could have the time back that I spent reading this book! My book club chose this book on the strength of the "Entertainment Weekly" review which described it as the kind of book you wanted to read all over again right after finishing it. Actually, it's the kind of book that I wanted to throw across the room, or bestow upon someone I didn't like very much. It's that bad. I feel so duped by that good EW review! I wish I could un-read the review AND the book. Don't waste your time!
An enjoyable book, better if you can read it and talk about it with someone else. The characters were quirky/interesting/recognizable/surprising; well-crafted. The stream of consciousness in the final chapters was lost on me, it neither furthered nor deepened my understanding of the youngest main character or the plot or the subtext.
I hated this book more than I can possibly explain. The style of writing made it very difficult to read, the 63 pages I managed were ones that I had to force down like slimy vegetables. Save your money and your time and move on to a better book.
In Greenwich, England, charming Miles Garth, a guest at a dinner party hosted by Gen and Eric Lee, rises from the table in between the main course and dessert. He goes upstairs and locks himself in a spare bedroom. In spite of coaxing from the bewildered hosts and other confused guests, Miles refuses to leave the room and only responds by notes he delivers under the door. Rather quickly a crowd surrounds the house curious in a macabre way to observe what Milo, as the watchers have named him, does next. Fortyish Anna Hardie knew Miles when they met as teens in 1980 during a European Grand Tour. Homosexual sexagenarian Mark Palmer, whose late mom speaks to him in verse, met Miles at a Shakespearean event and invited him to this gala. Octogenarian dementia sufferer May Young, who Miles helped with her grieving of her late daughter, tries to return his kindness. Finally tweener Brooke the attention deficit student disliked by her peers does not know him at all as they just met at dinner. As weeks pass, these five and others forge a family of sorts. There But For The is a fascinating parable that takes a close look at time, which never stops. The four players intermingling with the legendary squatter represent different eras in the lives of people as does the location. Filled with metaphors and quirky characters, Ali Smith provides a profound tale of mortality as the Steve Miller band said: "Time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin' Into the future." Harriet Klausner
She is a selfish sort who likes to think she is a book reviewer...and ruins books for the rest of us.