Sunday, 29 May 2011

Book of the Week - Ali Smith, There But For The

Ali Smith is one of my favourite writers – intelligent, funny and usually with a slightly quirky or experimental approach in her books. “There but for the” is her most recent novel – it is divided into four sections (There, But, For, The), but is a unified whole. Smith has a good track record in the Literary Prizes and I have always enjoyed her work, so I am looking forward to this one very much. There will be hardcover and paperback releases, which tends to mean a relatively modest print run for the former.

Ali Smith was born in Inverness in 1962. Her first book, Free Love and Other Stories (1995), won the Saltire Society Scottish First Book of the Year Award and a Scottish Arts Council Award. Her first novel, Like, was published to critical acclaim in 1997. A second collection of short stories, Other Stories and Other Stories, was published in 1999. Her second novel, Hotel World (2001), won the Encore Award, a Scottish Arts Council Book Award and the inaugural Scottish Arts Council Book of the Year Award. It was also shortlisted for both the Orange Prize for Fiction and the Booker Prize for Fiction. Set during the course of one night, the narrative follows the adventures of five different characters, one of whom is the ghost of a chambermaid killed in a bizarre accident. Her most recent collection of short stories is The Whole Story and Other Stories (2003). In 2004, her novel, The Accidental (2004), was published, and won the 2005 Whitbread Novel Award. Girl Meets Boy (2007) was published in 2007. She has also published a play, The Seer (2006), and her most recent collection of short stories is The First Person and Other Stories (2008). The Book Lover (2008) is a personal anthology of favourite pieces of writing gathered over the course of her life.

“Imagine you give a dinner party and a friend of a friend brings a stranger to your house as his guest. He seems pleasant enough. Imagine that this stranger goes upstairs halfway through the dinner party and locks himself in one of your bedrooms and won't come out. Imagine you can't move him for days, weeks, months. If ever. This is what Miles does, in a chichi house in the historic borough of Greenwich, in the year 2009–10, in There but for the. Who is Miles, then? And what does it mean, exactly, to live with other people?

Sharply satirical and sharply compassionate, with an eye to the meanings of the smallest of words and the slightest of resonances, There but for the fuses disparate perspectives in a crucially communal expression of identity and explores our very human attempts to navigate between despair and hope, enormity and intimacy, cliché and grace. Ali Smith's dazzling new novel is a funny, moving book about time, memory, thought, presence, quietness in a noisy time, and the importance of hearing ourselves think.”

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