Aug 19, 2007

The Accidental by Ali Smith

The Accidental by Ali Smith is the story of a disintegrating family spending one summer in a holiday house in Norfolk. Each of the four members of the Smart family is isolated in his or her own particular type of silence. Astrid is a lonely twelve-year-old obsessed with filming everything around her. Magnus, sixteen, is consumed with guilt about an unkind act that might have contributed to a classmate’s suicide. Eve, their mother, is a moderately successful author who is supposed to be working on a new book, but instead gets lost in her thoughts all day. And Michael, Eve’s husband, is a literature professor who has the habit of sleeping with his students.

One day, a mysterious woman by the name of Amber arrives to the house, saying her car broke down. She stays with the Smart family for one night, and then another, and then another, and because of her puzzling actions each family member goes through a change.

The Accidental reminded me slightly of Toni Morrison’s Beloved, which I read a little while ago. The books are very different in many ways, but the fragmented, hazy writing style was a little reminiscent of Morrison’s, and there’s also the fact that in both books events are set in motion by the arrival of a mysterious woman.

This novel is divided in three parts (fittingly titled “the beginning”, “the middle” and “the end”), and in each there are four chapters, one told from the perspective of each member of the family. I find that, if done well, the use of multiple perspectives can be an extremely enriching storytelling technique, and that was certainly the case with this book.

I liked how the writing style varied a little in each character’s chapters, helping with characterization. I liked how there were moments of humour intertwined with poignant moments and moments of quiet sadness. I liked how well Ali Smith writes silences – what is not said is just as important as what is said.

I first became interested in Ali Smith when one of her stories was read in a storytelling workshop at my university. Unfortunately I cannot recall the name of the story, but I do remember that in it she toyed with perspective just like in this book. A little while later I came across the book Ali Smith’s Supersonic 70’s, part of the Penguin Pocket 70's collection, and I picked it up.

The book had a few short stories in it, and I enjoyed them all, but one, called “The Theme is Power”, was simply one of the best short stories I’d ever read. It is a love story, and a story about memory and safety and loss. The writing was beautiful, and very different from the very adventurous and fragmented style she used in The Accidental.

I suppose I expected this book to be more like that story, but the fact that it isn’t makes me think that she is a very versatile writer. I think I will need to read more of her work to form an opinion about her.

Other Blog Reviews:
Rhinoa's Ramblings
Valentina's Room
What I Have Been Reading
Who's That Bookworm?

where troubles melt like lemon drops


  1. I love your no-spoilers reviews, nymeth! I am unfamiliar with this author (I don't read much contemporary fiction), and it is good to get these fascinating glimpses into novels I might otherwise not read. I love when point-of-view shifts work well - this sounds like an intriguing book.

  2. Another great review, Nymeth! I've heard lots of good reviews about this one. I've read Hotel World, which I would recommend if you haven't read it. Plus a couple of her short story books. With the stories, some I really like, others not so much but she's certainly an interesting writer. I'll have to get to this one someday.

  3. This certainly does sound interesting and I will have to keep an eye out for it. Your reviews always give just enough information to spark interest without giving away a thing.

  4. Am adding this one to my list thanks Nymeth. It sounds like the style is a little like The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood which alternates between three female characters after a woman from their past reappears. You might be interested to read it if you haven't already.

  5. Darla: Thank you. I always try not to give too much away, but sometimes it's hard to tell how much is too much. Normally what I think is that if something is revealed in the first few chapters of the book, then it's okay to mention it in a review.

    Tanabata: Thanks! I haven't read Hotel World, no. I will add it to my list.

    Petunia: Thank you!

    Rhinoa: I haven't read The Robber Bride, but it's been recommended to me before. I need to get to it one day.

  6. hmm... interesting...

    cool review!

  7. Thanks, Jean Pierre. It is an interesting and haunting book.


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