31. ‘There But For The’ by Ali Smith

The Book:

The writing in this book is so beautifully smooth it is almost like liquid. There is such attention to the details of words, letters and sounds, that the language takes on an incredible flowing quality. You don’t so much read this story as let it run through you.

This is the story of Miles, a man who goes to a dinner party, locks himself in an upstairs bedroom, and refuses to leave. He is fed at first by passing food under the door, but later on as his fame spreads people send food up to the window in a basket. His reach widens, beyond the bedroom, to the world at large.

The reader does not see inside the room, or from Miles’ point of view. Instead the book is divided into several sections, entitled ‘There’, ‘But’, ‘For’ and ‘The’. Each of the sections starts with the word of its title, and is narrated by a different character. Perhaps my favourite narrator is the old woman in a nursing home. She watches her own limbs disobey her as she reaches for things, and she lapses into memories  of her younger life without warning.

Each of the characters are intricately drawn, and through them we learn more and more about Miles. Each section ends with some sort of document or piece of writing, which has been referred to several times in the chapter, and is given at the end of each as the final piece of the jigsaw.

Internal monologues are very prevalent in this book, and they are used simply brilliantly. Characters discuss various mundane aspects of their lives and then suddenly drop in a reference to something utterly wrenching and serious in their pasts. This makes the whole thing unpredictable and, indeed, the ending is anti-climactic but not disappointing. (At least, not for me, because I am a big fan of the unanswered question, in this case: Why?)

I could not put this book down. It forms a web of connected people and ideas, and the very end links back to the seemingly disconnected prologue. This is a story that, like its title, simply trips off the tongue.

The Background:

I had heard of this book before, but had never read any Ali Smith. I read so much on my trip to Venice, that I ran out of books! My mum leant it to me and I finished it in just a few days.


If you enjoyed my review, why not buy the book and let me know what you think?

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