Updated on August 25, 2015
31. ‘Girl Meets Boy’ by Ali Smith
Girl Meets Boy is Ali Smith’s retelling of Ovid’s Metamorphosis, as part of the Canongate Myth series. I am entirely unfamiliar with Metamorphosis – in fact, I’ve never read any Ovid and have barely read any ancient literature – so I can’t comment on the parallels it has with that text. However, I can tell you this book is written in Ali Smith’s typical ‘flowing’ style, and is every bit as complex and intriguing as I have come to expect of her work.
Anthea and Imogen (aka Midge) are sisters, and the story switches between their two perspectives. Anthea is thoughtful and philosophical; Imogen is a slightly more active, sociable person. Their relationship becomes strained when Anthea falls in love with a boy who is actually a girl called Robin. When Imogen finds out, her homophobia starts to come to the surface, particularly when Anthea and Robin spray-paint feminist slogans all over town.
Ali Smith deftly turns stereotypes on their heads and always leaves the reader slightly wondering what is going on, especially when it comes to gender. She constantly blurs the lines between the genders, which portrays beautifully the idea that gender is fluid, rather than a fixed dichotomy. For me, Imogen was the more interesting of the two characters: she has some problematic ideas about homosexuality but you can see that her thoughts have been affected strongly by the people around her. You get the impression that, left to her own devices, she could be fully accepting of her sister, especially when you see her strong moral compass at work during a meeting with her boss. She is a complex character and it is fascinating to be able to see inside her head.
Whenever I read other reviews of Ali Smith, I’m struck by how many people describe her writing like water. People talk about the flow, the smoothness, the liquid quality of it, and it is absolutely true. I’ve only read two of Smith’s books, but both times I’ve had the impression that the writing was moving through me. Of course, Girl Meets Boy is quite short – more of a novella, really – and it is in many ways like a long, epic poem. Her metaphors and imagery are simply beautiful and, although this is a quick read, in a very short time it will really make you think.
“I’d be happy, myself … just to know that the world was a berry in the beak of a bird, or was nothing more than a slab of sloped grassy turf like this, fished out of cosmic nothingness one beautiful spring morning by some meaningless creature or other.”
Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts!
Want to read this? You can buy the book here.