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2.9 out of 5 stars
135
2.9 out of 5 stars
The Accidental
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on 19 September 2017
IAll of Ali Smith's books have something to share
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 27 April 2015
Ali Smith's The Accidental is bold, playful, exuberant, and with its opening chapter about the very accident of conception itself - one egg, the possibility offered by a myriad spermatozoa, bursting vibrantly and provocatively into introducing the protagonist from - where, heaven?, hell? the here and now? - it reminded me not a little of Kate Atkinson's first novel, Behind The Scenes At The Museum.

The title of Smith's book is of course mocking and, `Yeah, Right!' because the whole tenor of the book decries `the accident'. The mysterious agent-provocateur, Amber/Alhambra, whose conception, in the café of an Alhambra cinema is detailed at the start, will enter the lives of a fairly ordinary family, in the guise of a saviour to some, and as some kind of devastating Kali figure to others, whose trail of destruction forces changes and awakening on them. Everything they are, everything that happens, came from their natures and their choices, not from `accident'

But enough of this elusive waffle, what is the outline of this book

A family of 4, Michael, University lecturer in the English Department, serial philanderer. His wife, Eve, a successful genre writer in a kind of `invented biography' field, taking the lives of real people who died early and inventing longer lives for them. Eve's children: Magnus, 17, highly intelligent, falling dangerously apart, after his unwitting but still culpable involvement in a piece of Facebook flamery causes a classmate to kill herself. And finally, lastly, but absolutely not leastly,12 year old Astrid. The 4 - the Smart family (here, as so often Smith is making all sorts of pointed comments, as the family, and certainly the adults, are anything but) are on a summer vac holiday in Norfolk, and pretty disastrous it is turning out to be.

Smith writes events from the point of view of each family member - not as first person narration but as seen from the point of view of the omniscient narrator - it is only Amber, the instigator of changes, who gets first person narration.

Amber appears unexpectedly at the holiday cottage, and both Eve and Michael are convinced she has been invited by the other (their marriage is not altogether going swimmingly as shown by the fact that Eve thinks Amber must be one of Michael's current student seductions, and Michael she is some kind of `eighties feministy still-political women' for whom Eve is some kind of icon.

On her first night with the family she rescues Magnus from a suicide attempt, blazes Astrid out of the sulking disaffected `whatever' she is heading towards, is violently fallen in love with by Michael, and becomes some kind of confessional for Eve. Her role, for each of the four, is ultimately healing, though for the adults, her healing involves a ruthless stripping away of their masks, and is both immediately, and ultimately painful.

But what makes Smith's book challenging, entrancing, and, also it must be said, at times extremely irritating, are the games she plays, with form, structure, style, reference. For example, one of the Michael sections consists of a series of sonnets as Amber releases the writer from the cynical and rather tired analyser of literature. Amber's own sections, true to her movie inspired conception, runs through a dizzying movie iconic moments, cliché moments from movies, explanation of our times.

The Smart family's individual voices are not drawn equally successfully. Eve, for me, is the character who engages the least, and young Astrid is the absolute stand-out,

"Astrid is taping dawns. There is nothing else to do here. The village is a dump. Post Office, vandalised Indian restaurant, chip shop little shop place that's never open, place for ducks to cross the road. Ducks actually have their own roadsign! There is a sofa warehouse called Sofa So Good. It is dismal. There is a church. The church has its own roadsign too. Nothing happens here except a church and some ducks, and this house is an ultimate dump. It is substandard. Nothing is going to happen here all substandard summer."

I have some reservations about the book once the summer was over, and the unravelling, the remaking, the inventiveness moved beyond the family's return to London and beyond, possibly because the final character journey which Smith explores, is that of Eve, who, for me, was the character who had worked less well, and who I found the least credible.

But I am certainly minded to explore more of Smith's writing. She is an unusual voice, one with energy, verve, and fierce intelligence. Her crackling intellect and her ability to connect together all sorts of disparate threads, to explore the form of the novel, but not in a dry and dusty manner, reminds me not a little of Scarlett Thomas.
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on 17 September 2015
Read it twice. Missed out some of the twists first time. Clever use of language
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on 28 October 2015
It was an awarding winning book that left me, well, forgetting it. I maybe am not as up-to-date as I should be.
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on 26 August 2016
great publication, thank you
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on 21 January 2008
You do not have to be clever or well read to enjoy this book! But perhaps you do have to be perceptive. What a fantastic book. I found it got inside me and stayed in parts of my mind without my permission. A beautifully written work that has more resonance than the story would appear to offer. Ali Smith effortlessly conveys her characterisation through the eyes of her subjects and their thoughts and observations. Not a book for people who like stories to be made up of events or facts which are revealed sequentially. "The Accidental" is more complex and more perplexing. It comes at you like life. It is bewildering at first and more true than other books I have read. I found reading the book exciting and liberating - as if I had shared the experiences.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 6 May 2012
I enjoyed the first 200 pages or so. A mysterious stranger, Amber, turns up at the holiday home of a deeply troubled- albeit ostensibly successful- family. The author writes from the point of view of each character in turn; I found her
narratives in the voices of the children particularly compelling.
But then I couldn't get to grips with the fuzzy sort of ending.
Why did the parents turn on Amber to the extent the kids couldn't even say her name?
I'd thought she was some sort of angelic being sent to fix things but mother didn't seem very sorted by the end (or was breaking away from her husband the resolution? What about her leaving the kids behind?)
Felt like a waste of time reading it in light of the end. But the writing style is undeniably brilliant in parts.
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on 14 May 2006
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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on 21 August 2017
Couldn't be bothered finishing this which is unusual for me. Awful rambly style. Some speech marks would have been nice too!
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on 25 September 2011
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.

What Amber seems to be doing , and I am only two thirds through, is to be allowing a part of each member of the family to be expressed, which so far has been either disallowed or conventionally suppressed in the unspoken rules of everyday family life.

This is a kind of an Utopian idyll, which most of us would willingly snap up - here I go identifying with Marcus again, and the author has selected a representative family to be her big brother house, where we the watcher can gleefully witness the inner enlargement of her "guinea pigs"; instead of having to observe the behaviours of a group of people who were it not for Ambers interventions, would soon I believe have us saying to each of the cast "Get over yourself".

Maybe there is an implicit message here to hold ourselves more lightly indeed.

And in the getting over ourselves, maybe Ali Smith has done considerably more for us than simply providing us with us a couple of hours of edutainment.

A book that I am already looking forward to reading again
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