In winning the prestigious Whitbread, the Scottish-born, 43-year-old Smith beat out the likes of Salman Rushdie and Nick Hornby. Good for the judges. Smith is a dazzling talent, fearlessly lassoing different styles and ideas and playfully manipulating them. Though The Accidental is not a conventionally funny novel, readers may find themselves laughing -- in surprise and delight -- at the way Smith takes a literary trope and riffs on it until she's turned it inside out, the way a great jazz musician might. (When Amber obliquely tells the story of her childhood through the recitation of scenes from classic movies, the tour-de-force passage gets at the unique symbology of cinema in a way that eludes even our most erudite film critics.)
THe Washington Post
Smith’s book, which has just won Britain’s Whitbread Novel Award, concerns an attractive stranger who shows up on the doorstep of an unhappy family and is unquestioningly taken in. The visitor, armed with a perfect combination of candor, free-spiritedness, and rough love, proceeds to manipulate each of her hosts. Just as abruptly, and, perhaps, predictably, she disappears. We never learn much about her—her only purpose, it seems, was to jolt the family members out of their respective messes—and her righteous self-assurance can get tiresome. But the novel is saved by its skillful and touching rendering of the mental state of each family member. Smith’s well-honed, even obsessive prose gives a feeling of eavesdropping on her characters’ innermost thoughts.
Astrid's trippy, half-hostile, half-vulnerable take on the world; the terror, guilt and self-hatred Magnus feels after a practical joke on one of his schoolmates goes horribly awry; Michael's preening professorial detachment and air of entitlement; and Eve's paralyzing worries about her family and her newly successful writing career — all are rendered with knowing authority and poise, and served up in wonderfully supple, jazzy prose. Ms. Smith can do suicidal teenage angst and middle-aged ennui, a 12-year-old's sardonic innocence and an aging Lothario's randy daydreams with equal aplomb. And in riffing on the stream of consciousness form, pioneered by such high-brow litterateurs as Joyce and Woolf, she manages to make it as accessible and up to the minute (if vastly more entertaining) as talk radio or an Internet chat room.
The New York Times
Heather O'Neill plays Amber, a mysterious stranger who wangles her way into the lives of a vacationing English family spending the summer in a remote cottage. O'Neill reads with studious detachment and a persistent air of mischief, as if the entire story is a particularly juicy practical joke. Given Amber's predilection for wreaking havoc in her new adopted family's comfortably misguided lives, the emotion is supremely apropos. O'Neill is joined by a cast of performers, including Ruth Moore as the perpetually harried, perpetually preoccupied Eve, who spends all her time dreaming of the characters of the latest historical novel she's writing, and Stina Nielsen as Astrid, a 12-year-old with a frightening imagination and a propensity for recording the world on her video camera. The bulk of the book, though, is read by O'Neill, who provides a suitably nuanced reading, at times placid, at times flashing an air of free-floating menace. It is her work, above all, that brings Smith's novel to fully fleshed existence. Simultaneous release with the Pantheon hardcover (Reviews, Oct. 31). (Jan.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Amber looks so innocent when she arrives barefoot at the Norfolk summer cottage of Eve Smart and her family, but her presence causes major disruption-even after she's sent packing. With a six-city tour. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Dazzling wordplay and abundant imagination invigorate a tale of lives interrupted. Highly touted Brit Smith (Hotel World, 2002, etc.) is an original whose choppy perspectives and internal riffs take some getting used to. This third novel, her second to be shortlisted for the Booker Prize, reveals its hand slowly as it switches among Alhambra, a recurrent character, and the separate trajectories of the Smart family, on holiday in Norfolk. Astrid, 12 and bored, sees life at one remove through the viewfinder of her camera; her brother Magnus, implicated in a bullying that led to a school mate's death, is borderline suicidal; their mother, Eve, a writer, is blocked; and their stepfather, Michael, an academic, is a compulsive philanderer. Each of these lives is thrown onto a different track by the arrival of mysterious, mercurial Amber, who is probably not telling the truth when she says she became a vagrant after killing a child in a car accident. Amber is lovely, fierce and unpredictable. She throws Astrid's camera away and seduces Magnus. Indifferent towards Michael's physical charms, she reveals to him the waning of his sexual allure. After Amber kisses Eve, she is thrown out of the house, and takes her revenge by stripping the Smarts' London home of everything, including faucets and doorknobs. But even bigger things are ahead. Inventive, intelligent, playful, Smith has a pin-sharp ear for her characters' voices. Underneath the glittering surface lies a darker debate about truth and consequences, as well as a magnificent history of the cinema. It's not so much about the story as it is about the virtuosity of the telling.
“Astonishing. . . . Vivid and affecting. . . . Wonderfully supple, jazzy.” –The New York Times
“Persistently sparkling pages...of startling and clarifying emotional power. . . . It casts a spell.” —The Atlantic Monthly
“Completely captivating. . . . Thoroughly charming and melodic. . . .Devilishly lovely.” —The Boston Globe
“Beautifully executed. . . . A few pages [in] and you begin to remember how much fun it is to put yourself in the hands of a skilled, majestically confident writer. . . . Delightful.”
—The New York Observer
“Brims with wit, humor, and energy.” —The Christian Science Monitor