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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful But I'd Like to Know More
Ali Smith's first (and to my view her best) novel is really two linked novellas. In Part I, we meet Amy, a mysterious single mother living in a caravan in Scotland, and Amy's eight-year-old daughter Kate. Due - as we soon realize - to some strange mental breakdown, Amy is unable to read, and relies on Kate to do any reading needed for her. Suddenly, and mysteriously, the...
Published on 28 Feb 2012 by Kate Hopkins

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3.0 out of 5 stars Perplexing
This book is beautifully written and fascinating throughout, However... it doesn't have a cohesive story. It turns out not to be about what you think it is and becomes something else half way through. The mystery you think will be cleared up just isn't. I enjoyed reading it but was a little disappointed because I think it could have been better!
Published 22 months ago by store55


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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful But I'd Like to Know More, 28 Feb 2012
By 
Kate Hopkins (London) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Like (Paperback)
Ali Smith's first (and to my view her best) novel is really two linked novellas. In Part I, we meet Amy, a mysterious single mother living in a caravan in Scotland, and Amy's eight-year-old daughter Kate. Due - as we soon realize - to some strange mental breakdown, Amy is unable to read, and relies on Kate to do any reading needed for her. Suddenly, and mysteriously, the ability to read begins to come back to her, and she makes the decision to take Kate to meet her parents, and then to take her on holiday to Italy, staying near Pompei. Gradually, we learn a bit about Amy's life; that she was once an academic, that she is very frightened of a former friend named Aisling McCarthy, and that Kate may or may not have been a stolen baby and not Amy's child. Smith tells this part of the story in the third person, partly from Amy's point of view and partly from Kate's. She enters into the world of the eight-year-old child absolutely wonderfully - Kate's one of the very few children in modern fiction I've really identified with; and Amy is also a powerfully created character. There are amazing descriptions of train journeys, Amy's family's house, Italy and even life in chilly Northern Scotland.

The second part of the novel initially seems almost unconnected to the first, and is told from the point of view of Ash (Aisling - the Aisling McCarthy mentioned in Part I as we learn). Ash, an actress, is visiting Scotland before going to Hollywood to make a film. She remembers her past, starting with her teenage years, when when she was living in Inverness with her brothers and widower father. Ash meets Amy one summer and they become friends. A couple of years later, having officially come out as bisexual (and lost quite a bit of popularity in her own town as a result) and had an affair with a teacher, Ash receives a card from Amy and on a whim heads to Cambridge, where Amy is now a student. The bulk of Part II describes Ash and Amy's on-off friendship/relationship (though I'm not sure they ever sleep together) over the years in Cambridge as Amy moves from being a student to being a don, Ash's affairs with other men and women, particularly a playwright called Simone, and how the relationship ended. The final section has Ash, about to go to America, meditating on her life and what the future might hold.

This section also has some truly wonderful writing - brilliant descriptions of Cambridge and Scotland, and of hopeless passion, some vivid and likeable characters such as Simone and Carmen, and interesting thoughts on lesbianism and bisexuality. Ash is a compelling and likeable narrator, and, having been to Cambridge myself, I felt she brought the city and the university in all its charm and snobbism wonderfully to life.

However, the book left me feeling slightly 'hungry' at the end. I didn't quite believe the melodrama of Ash's taking her revenge on Amy - this was the point where I began to wonder what was real and what was Ash's fantasy. And I'd have loved to have known what really happened between Amy and Ash in the end, what caused Amy's breakdown and if she ever returned to academic life, whether Ash died or where she disappeared to, if Kate was her child and - as another reviewer has noted - what happened to Kate? I don't know if Smith was ever planning a sequel or if she wanted to leave things for the reader to carry on inventing (a la Angela Carter) but I felt that there were a few too many unsolved mysteries as I ended the book. Still - five stars for the most incredible writing and sensitive handling of characters.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Whatever happened to Ash?, 2 Oct 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Like (Paperback)
I've just read this book in a rainy day Amsterdam cafe. I couldn't stop reading it, away from home it had all the mystery twists and beautiful studies of character that make you homesick and want to runnaway from home at the same time. It reminds you of all those friendships that have ever gone wrong and you never understood why. You see, there's Amy and her friend Ash and they're completely opposite and completely the same. You know the story, it's very familiar but Ali Smith avoids all cliche and paints an emotional landscape that rings true. It makes you feel uneasy and makes you want to be in love - classy really. I'm off to buy her other books..
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "We're always hanging on to what we know, what we remember, like it's got the power to make us who we are.", 10 Aug 2011
By 
jfp2006 (PARIS/France) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Like (Paperback)
Ali Smith's third novel, "The Accidental", short-listed for the Man Booker prize in 2005, quickly became one of the biggest dividers of opinion among readers: of the 94 people who have so far reviewed it on this site, just over 21% have given it five stars, while over 30% have summarily dismissed it with one star, lambasting it, in some cases, as "pointless", "worthless" and even "dishonest" - with the rest fairly evenly distributed among two, three and four stars.

For me, it was the best book I'd read for a long time, and turned me into a permanent fan of Ali Smith.

The Accidental and its predecessor "Hotel World" (2001 - also Booker short-listed) have been slated as representing the triumph of style over substance. They are difficult books, whose genesis can be traced back to Modernists such as James Joyce and Virginia Woolf - writers on whom Ali Smith is something of an authority. But, to a careful reader - and the same is true of Woolf's "Mrs Dalloway" and "To the Lighthouse" - there *is* a storyline, i.e. a sequence of events, but one which the reader has to patiently piece together: the fictional equivalent of a jigsaw puzzle.

"Like", Smith's first novel, which slipped by more or less unnoticed in 1997, is, it must be acknowledged, (even) more difficult.

"Like" falls into two sections, unhelpfully (at first sight) entitled "Amy" and "Ash". But then "Amy" is also the first word of the first section, and thereafter we gradually make the acquaintance of Amy Shone and her daughter, Kate, living what seems a rather haphazard existence on a caravan site somewhere in northern Scotland. What makes "Like" a more problematic text than the following two novels (and this is indeed true of Woolf's tentatively experimental "Jacob's Room" as compared with the later novels mentioned above) is that it is very difficult, and sometimes impossible, to establish who is who and what is what. The reader expecting to be introduced to Kate's father will have to wait forever, but, more troublingly, it is never certain that Amy is even Kate's biological mother:

"No, I never recorded Kate's birth. No, because I never recorded it she hasn't got one. No, it has never really been a problem, we have always got round it one way or another. Because I didn't feel like recording it."

And then, a few pages later (and disconnected to anything that precedes or follows):

"Say you took a child. Say you just took a child.
Go on. Say it."

These words remain tantalisingly ambiguous: is it "taking" as in taking somebody on holiday (which is in fact what Amy does next) or is it "taking" as in, well, stealing?

As for Kate, she quickly, and precociously, becomes the key to the novel's preoccupation with language:

"Her favourite colour word is indigo but her favourite colour is turquoise. Indigo. Indian. Turquoise. Porpoise."

Playing with language is a central element of the novel: at one point a small boy wants to know whether "indolent" has anything to do with being on the dole, while Kate, when Amy tells her she is a liability,

"wonders what the word liability means, if it's anything to do with being able to tell lies."

This poetic (i.e. creative) dimension of the novel is also found in phrases such as:

"The ticklish casual legs of a spider"

or, when someone calms their nerves by drinking alcohol:

"the fear haze turned to beer haze"

If the novel is actually about anything, it is about the past relationship between Amy and Ash - an intense adolescent and post-adolescent lesbian relationship, but one which seems to have involved more running away - either with or from - than anything else...

Basically, the two girls meet when Amy and her parents take up holiday accommodation next-door to where Ash lives with her father and twin elder brothers (just as there is no father in sight for Kate, there is no mother in sight for Ash).

It is the second section of the story, slightly longer than the first, and narrated in the first-person by Ash, that makes it clear that Ash followed Amy to Cambridge, where Amy eventually became a Fellow, while Ash, unexpectedly, became an actress.

And so what about the, like, the title?

"You say something's like something else, and all you've really said is that actually, because it's only like it, it's different."

"It's like, like - I said, and I stopped, I couldn't think what it was like, it was Amy's heart, it wasn't like anything else."

In the end the novel is not about Amy and Ash, or only incidentally. It is about the need to understand things, and people, by comparing them to other things, and people. In the end, Ali Smith seems to say, we are trapped in our fragmentary and incomplete subjective impressions. It is in this respect that she is a contemporary equivalent of Virginia Woolf.

If "Like" is perhaps to be considered something of an apprentice work, it is a very intelligent and subtle one, and looks forward to the more coherent novels to come.

And I have "There but for the" waiting on my reading pile... it hasn't been longlisted for the Booker... but, who cares, Smith has established her credentials now, and they are, in my view, solid enough not to need the approval of the Booker judges.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking, 13 Jan 2006
This review is from: Like (Paperback)
Given the author's rejection of spoon-fed narrative it's not surprising that the reader is invited to assume/fill in or leave certain blanks in this anatomy of a relationship and its repurcussions.
The first section on Amy and Kate is so captivating that it does come as a disappointment to leave them and re-involve oneself with a new character, until the second section begins to shed light on the first.
In the end this tale of fractured relationships and unfinished stories reflect the passage of life itself and remain in the memory after the final page is turned.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Perplexing, 9 Feb 2013
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This review is from: Like (Paperback)
This book is beautifully written and fascinating throughout, However... it doesn't have a cohesive story. It turns out not to be about what you think it is and becomes something else half way through. The mystery you think will be cleared up just isn't. I enjoyed reading it but was a little disappointed because I think it could have been better!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Echoes of Woolf and Eco, 3 Oct 2012
By 
L. Claassen - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Like (Paperback)
A few pages into the second section of the book I suddenly and vividly felt the presence of both Virginia Woolf and Umberto Eco. Why Woolf? Smith writes so beautifully and with such unselfconscious intimacy. I was so happy to be swept up by her rich tide of character, thought, feeling and wonderfully poetic prose that the plot was, for the most part, secondary. Had Woolf ever felt compelled to write about a seemingly itinerant mother and her 8 year old daughter in Scotland all these decades later, this is how she might have done it. That Smith uses Woolf's fiction as a prop, a plot point, makes me think that she was very deliberate in her choice of style.

I met Eco in the voice of the appropriately named Ash as she tells her story to her 'liary'. Her story is told in fragments, her voice is brutally honest and unguarded but it is hard to judge what is true and what is her fiction. Eco is invoked in the sometimes opaque prose as well as the Iiberal seasoning of popular culture, literature, art, history and social and cultural mores yhat are hallmarks of the second part of the book.

Perhaps Smith could have given us more of a denouement: I would, for instance, have liked to know whence wonderful Kate hails, and why Amy lost her ability to read.

I loved every word, every turn of phrase, in this deftly crafted book.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I was really confused..., 5 Oct 2008
By 
Min (Seoul, South Korea) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Like (Paperback)
First of all, I'm not a native english speaker. So I'm sure that there were so many things I missed out while I was reading the book. But this book is so subtle that even though I was a native I probably missed many hints (no?). When I finished reading I was like, 'gee... what was it all about?' I was very confused and couldn't stop thinking of it for quite sometime. So I read it again and tried to find the missing parts I was despearately looking for. Then I failed again, again and... again, which was quite frustrating. But the strange thing is it just became one of my favorite books and I don't even know when I started to love it.
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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Yes, but what about Kate?, 18 Sep 2009
By 
Eileen Shaw "Kokoschka's_cat" (Leeds, England) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Like (Paperback)
The book starts well with Kate and her mother, the enigmatic Amy, living in a caravan near a Scottish village. Kate is nine; an engaging and funny little thing with some odd pockets of childish wisdom that makes her a credible and sympathetic character. Amy has some kind of problem with words - she can't read. Later this turns out to be psychological and after a holiday in Italy, looking at Pompeii and Naples, they return to Scotland and Amy's psychological block is broken.

Then abruptly we switch to Aisling, Ash for short, who, it gradually transpires, has loved Amy from afar for a long time. When Ash knew Amy she didn't have Kate, and here we come to one of the annoying aspects of this book. Kate is just a given - we don't know who her father was, what the experience of having her was like, or why they are alone together.

The main part of the book gives Ash's story, but it is quite boring since she does nothing but worry about being a lesbian. follow Amy around and sleep with other women. Towards the end there is some sort of explanation for some aspects of their relationship, but nothing about Kate. There is a good deal of rather arty prose, thinking, wondering, philosophising, etc., but it all seems to little effect if we are going to be short-changed about Kate, the book's most promising character. I was, in the end, disappointed.
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2 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, Superlative A must read., 20 Mar 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Like (Paperback)
Ali Smith, Inverness born & bred, writes with a real tour de force in the emotional minefield of your mind. Talent, ability and strength of character coming flowing out of this book like the river Ness out of Loch Ness. This should be a monster smash, buy it, and love it.
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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mysterious and gripping, 16 May 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Like (Paperback)
A fascinating read: you're sort of peering through one woman's internal undergrowth, and through it getting glimpses of her outside world, which sometimes make sense of her actions and sometimes don't. Smith's oblique clues demand concentration, a demanding and rewarding novel
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Like by Ali Smith (Paperback - 4 Jun 1998)
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