The Accidental - Ali Smith

I love Ali Smith, and after reading How to Be Both and There but for the I wanted to explore more of her earlier work. 

 

The Accidental is stylistically perfect, but it left me a bit cold.

 

The plot is simple: a family of four are holidaying in Norfolk, and during their stay a woman named Amber appears and turns their lives upside down. The story is divided into three distinct parts, the beginning, the middle and the end, and in each part there is a chapter for each family member, written from their perspective. In addition, there is a three to five page intro to each part, presumably narrated by the mysterious Amber herself. 

 

If this sounds a bit overwrought to you, you've already noticed part of the problem: a strong emphasis on form that either works for you or leaves the narrative a bit lifeless. For me it did a bit of both, and I didn't find all of the perspectives equally engaging. The trope of the mysterious, attractive but dangerous woman turning up out of the blue is a bit played out, and while the book is self-aware about this, it didn't help in making the narrative feel less constructed. I also found the topic of a stranger entering and upsetting the delicate balance of other people's lives to be better explored in There but for the

 

But then again, not many writers can write phrases like "the sweet headfuck of the endless, ended time in that house, in that church" and make it work, and I remember why I love Smith. She has an enormous sensibility for people, for words, and even though this book didn't blow me away like some of her others, there were still amazing bits scattered throughout.