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The Accidental [Hardcover]

Ali Smith
2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (117 customer reviews)

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Hardcover, 10 Jan 2006 --  
Paperback 6.85  
Audio, CD, Audiobook 10.81  

Book Description

10 Jan 2006
Winner of the Whitbread Award for best novel and a finalist for the Man Booker Prize, The Accidental is the virtuoso new novel by the singularly gifted Ali Smith. Jonathan Safran Foer has called her writing “thrilling.” Jeanette Winterson has praised her for her “style, ideas, and punch.” Here, in a novel at once profound, playful, and exhilaratingly inventive, she transfixes us with a portrait of a family unraveled by a mysterious visitor.

Amber—thirtysomething and barefoot—shows up at the door of the Norfolk cottage that the Smarts are renting for the summer. She talks her way in. She tells nothing but lies. She stays for dinner.

Eve Smart, the author of a best-selling series of biographical reconstructions, thinks Amber is a student with whom her husband, Michael, is sleeping. Michael, an English professor, knows only that her car broke down. Daughter Astrid, age twelve, thinks she’s her mother’s friend. Son Magnus, age seventeen, thinks she’s an angel.

As Amber insinuates herself into the family, the questions of who she is and how she’s come to be there drop away. Instead, dazzled by her seeming exoticism, the Smarts begin to examine the accidents of their lives through the searing lens of Amber’s perceptions. When Eve finally banishes her from the cottage, Amber disappears from their sight, but not—they discover when they return home to London—from their profoundly altered lives.

Fearlessly intelligent and written with an irresistible blend of lyricism and whimsy, The Accidental is a tour de force of literary improvisation that explores the nature of truth, the role of chance, and the transformative power of storytelling.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 305 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon Books (10 Jan 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375422250
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375422256
  • Product Dimensions: 20.6 x 14.5 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (117 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,096,888 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description

Review

"Astonishing. . . . Vivid and affecting. . . . Wonderfully supple, jazzy." -"The New York Times"
"Persistently sparkling pages...of startling and clarifying emotional power. . . . It casts a spell." --"The Atlantic Monthly"
"Completely captivating. . . . Thoroughly charming and melodic. . . .Devilishly lovely." --"The Boston Globe"
"Beautifully executed. . . . A few pages [in] and you begin to remember how much fun it is to put yourself in the hands of a skilled, majestically confident writer. . . . Delightful."
--"The New York Observer"
"Brims with wit, humor, and energy." --"The Christian Science Monitor" --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Ali Smith was born in Inverness in 1962 and lives in Cambridge. She is the author of Free Love, Like, Other Stories and Other Stories, Hotel World and The Whole Story and Other Stories. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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First Sentence
My mother began me one evening in 1968 on a table in the caf of the town's only cinema. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Even better second time 31 Jan 2007
Format:Paperback
I am wondering if all the negative reviews are partly because the reviewers are not from the UK- I think it is very evocative of a place and a time, and full of specific cultural values(white middle class,urban, academic). I found this book profoundly interesting and moving. I felt that all four family members who were so stuck at the start of the novel, developed and moved on by the end. Smith managed to create four entirely believable voices and at different points I felt sympathy for all of them.The various writing styles are sustained brilliantly and I felt that each character's story was equally strong. It felt very much a story of the UK now and the struggle for families to stay together and understand each other in the face of a difficult and depressing world. It definately warrants a second reading. As to whether Amber is real, a device or a ghost, she is an amazing force and stayed with me long after I finished the book.

It is not straightforward, or an easy read- you are made to think and puzzle and reflect- and a good think that is when most of the time we are not challenged by books, tv or film!
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35 of 39 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant and misunderstood 29 Oct 2006
By Emily
Format:Paperback
I don't write that many Amazon reviews but given some of the negative ones for this book, I had to. Personally, I thought the book was absolutely brilliant and, as others have said, the change in narrative tone depends on who's doing the narrating. As for Michael, he was a fantastic comic figure, especially in his middle section, the one written in verse. I take my hat off to Ali Smith for being able to move between prose and poerty in that way, but for anyone who doesn't like poetry, you can read it just as prose. It works that way, too.

The reason for four rather than five stars is the slightly disappointing ending. Although we don't really need to know who Amber really is, the three passages about her do suggest there are clues to her identity and it would have been nice to know what that identity was. And while I had no problem with Eve in the States, the suggestion that she might be going to retsart the whole cycle was a little silly: the point about Amber was that she was totally unique.

This is clearly one of those novels, though, that people either love or hate and to be honest I can't imagine haiting it. It's frequently called pretentious, too, which I didn't think it was at all (and I loathe McEwan et al for their pretension.) I hope to read a good deal more of her work.
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34 of 38 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Genius or just trying too hard? 14 May 2006
By Beca
Format:Paperback
As the title of this review suggests, my feelings about this novel are complex and I don't think I can adequately answer the question I have posed myself. There are moments of pure genius within this text - pieces of narrative that literally sweep you up with their ingenuity. Smith certainly excels when utilising her own unique stream of consciousness style and this alone makes the book worth reading. I also found the structure satisfying, with the sense of full circle achieved at the end. What lets this text down is the occasional sense that it is just trying to be that little bit too clever, a little bit too self aware of its status as a story telling medium. Three stars may be a little harsh - three and a half more accurate. I would certainly recommend this to anyone who enjoys an author unafraid to play with the novel genre but prepare to feel a little disappointed. This feels like the work of an author on the way to greatness but not quite there yet.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Accidentally stumbling across entertainment 25 Sep 2011
Format:Paperback
Ali Smith certainly doesn't need me to point out what seems to be happening,she has displayed a virtuoso level of walking a mile in someone elses moccasins when telling the story from five independent perspectives. In fact there is another perspective too, that of the narrator, when Michaels sense of hoplessness, regret and even shame at his addiction becomes revealed.
I guess to have read a lot of different writers and become comfortable with their devices with be a help in "getting in to " this book.
I loved it from the outset, the butterfly flitting of the egocentric teenage girl's mindset sets the ball rolling with gusto,and there are some musings from this character that made me actually laugh out loud - like the part when she notices (poor Michael - he comes in for the most stick doesn't he) that her step father is singing the latest pop song in an apparent attempt to be cool - "he's such a loser", and more insults that I won't spoil for you.

The function that Amber performs in this highly disfunctional family is to give each of them a taste of what she thinks they all need, whether they want it or not.
I envied Magnus, while not identifying with him particularly.
I remember this kind of device being used some time ago in a novel (whose title escapes me-) when a stranger joins a boating party - again in Norfolk, and each of the participants thinks one of the others has invited them to join. Its a similar theme, the stranger takes a lot more control over the situation than any of the others has managed so far and changes life for them all in some way.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Not to my liking!
I read this because it was a book group choice. However I could not see the point of the plot or characters. I can not recommend it.
Published 15 days ago by Margaret Lovegrove
5.0 out of 5 stars Think I will become one..
this is a very challneging book to read initially. no idea really where its going but it certainl;y gets somewhere. keep reading. Its worth it.
Published 20 days ago by L. K. Rowley
5.0 out of 5 stars A Christian Allegory, I think.
I have just finished reading The Accidental. I I understand it is a redoing of Pasolini's film Theorem. Read more
Published 25 days ago by Paul Halsall
2.0 out of 5 stars What was it all about?
There were five main characters each as boring as the other. There were no chapter headings. Each "section" started in the middle of a sentence as if you had been dropped... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Sheila
5.0 out of 5 stars Just great
This is a fantastic and different bit of literary fiction. If you love reading I don't know how you couldn't love this book.
Published 4 months ago by Ben
1.0 out of 5 stars This style of writing didnt engage me
This book was recommended in "The Week" - good books about family life. The person recommending it said she found it original, magical and hilarious. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Mrs. S. M. McALPINE
3.0 out of 5 stars The Accidental by Ali Smith
Rather a weird style of writing - rather unusual - written from the viewpoint of a 12 year old girl whose behaviour is very out of control for my liking. Read more
Published 8 months ago by katharine goodwin
5.0 out of 5 stars Pure genius
This book is pure genius. The character of Amber comes into the life of the Smart family is portrayed so subtly and with such conviction that the reader's disbelief is suspended. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Anna
1.0 out of 5 stars Interesting style, but lacking substance
Ali Smith has a gift for writing in a way which brings the reader very close to her characters. But the down side of this is, it gets boring. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Sue
4.0 out of 5 stars The accidental
Beautifully crafted story of a family forced to look at themselves by a stranger who turns up at their holiday home
Published 11 months ago by Em
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