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on 26 March 2008
It's very rare that a book makes me cry real, actual, physical tears, but Girl Meets Boy by Ali Smith had me sobbing like a Brownie. Tears of happiness I might add: tears of happiness for the characters, and tears of happiness because the novel itself, the words Ali Smith had written, were just perfect.

The book is a modern-day retelling of the myth of Iphis, one of the few happy moments in Ovid's Metamorphoses, where Iphis the girl is transformed into Iphis the boy in time to marry Ianthe (a girl), the love of her/his life. In Smith's version, there are two sisters in Inverness, Midge (or Imogen) and Anthea. Midge works for Pure, a company selling bottled water to the middle class masses, while Anthea is dreamier. Anthea falls in love with Robin - a girl with her name spelled the boys way - when she daubs anti-capitalist slogans on the outside of the Pure building.

As the chapters jump from Anthea's voice, to Midge's, and back, we see two sisters coming to terms with their lives and their loves and their true feelings. The endings for both girls are truly euphoric both in plot terms and in the tone of Smith's evocative, provocative stream of consciousness prose:

"We'd thought we were along, Robin and I. We'd thought it was just us, under the trees outside the cathedral. But as soon as we'd made our vows there was a great whoop of joy behind us, and when we turned round we saw all the people, there must have been hundreds, they were clapping and cheering, they were throwing confetti, they waved and they roared celebration."

Ali Smith is at her best, too, when she writes about love. Rarely do I find a writer that can encapsulate the very essence of what it feels like to be in love, but she does it. And she did it in this book time and time again... there were passages I read over and over again just to savour the words and sentences and the feelings they evoked. I could almost taste them.

"I had not known, before us, that every vein in my body was capable of carrying light, like a river seen from a train makes a channel of sky etch itself deep into a landscape. I had not known that I could be so much more than myself."

And as if all this didn't tick enough of my boxes, Girl Meets Boy also contains a heartfelt rallying cry for women's rights. I shall leave you with these words, as they appear in this marvelous, beautiful little gem of a book:

"...sexual or domestic violence affects one out of three women and girls worldwide and it is the world's leading cause of injury and death for women... THIS MUST CHANGE"

Go on yoursel', Ali.
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I always enjoy Ali Smith's writing, but have found some of her books to work better than others. "Girl Meets Boy" is the best novel of hers that I have read. It is quite simply sensational and shows an author on the top of her form and completely in tune with her subject.

One of a series in which ancient myths are rewritten as modern stories by a range of authors, this is part love story, part fable, and in part a depiction of the modern corporate world. The characters are brilliantly real - even if this is a modern myth - and what Smith has to say about love and life in this little book is inspirational, not to mention very entertaining. Every piece of dialogue rings true and there are truly great passages such as the very believable (and funny) inner thoughts of Imogen, a.k.a. "Midge" as she realises her sister has fallen in love with another girl; and the stream of consciousness of Anthea expressing how it feels to be in love with Robin.

It is a cliche, but I did actually struggle to put this book down. For its writing, but also its powerfully uplifting message and life-affirming qualities, I must give this book five stars. If only all fiction was as good as this.
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on 28 January 2015
I feel like I must have missed something with this book. For all the reviews proclaiming it a genius retelling, an avant-garde novel and a tour de force of storytelling, I found it to be merely an exercise in pretty prose writing and dialogue.

Don't get me wrong - this is a beautifully written book. There were quotes in this book that I've highlighted; there are pages that I've folded at the corners so I can find them again when I want to read a wonderful line. But that's all they are, and that's perhaps why they stood out so starkly; they're just beautiful lines in an otherwise rather empty narrative.

In terms of character, I had to struggle very hard to see any. Despite the fact that the narrative is told from more than one viewpoint, both narrative voices sounded exactly the same, with the only discernible difference being that Midge tended to think in almost staccato parentheses whereas Anthea's thoughts were more fluid. Both characters seemed to be almost interchangeable, and as for the character of Robin - well, she was really more of an archetype than anything else. An enjoyable archetype, yes, but an archetype nonetheless.

I also thought that the plot was poorly paced and jumped from one narrative event to the next with little to no context, meaning that the actual significance or indeed relevance of certain plot points was totally lost. It's a shame, because the actual plot itself was interesting, although slightly thin. I think that Smith could have done with an extra 50 or so pages to flesh things out a bit more. Bare bones are fine if there's a reason that they're skeletal. In contrast, the ending of the book dragged so terribly that it was a real chore to finish. The last seven or so pages could really have been condensed into one simple paragraph; the only casualty would have been some stunning poetic language, which this book doesn't lack anyway. I think a harsher editor might have been useful in this case.

I didn't hate the book. I want to make that clear. I'll certainly reread it in the future. I just wish that there was more to it behind the lovely prose and the deft wordplay, because on first reading, it seemed like a rather hollow narrative.
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on 30 January 2009
I have to admit that despite my mother being a Classics teacher, though possibly because of that, I have no recollection of many of the great myths. The one that I did love the most was Persephone I don't know why though looking back. Anyway I digress, with that in mind I went into reading Ali Smiths Girl Meets Boy not thinking of it as a re-working of Ovid's Metamorphoses or The Myth of Iphis but simply as a new novel. I have to say I don't think you have to know Ovid to enjoy this anymore or less you will think its wonderful either way. You do get to hear the story of Iphis in the book though about half way through and you can see it reflected in the novel as a whole.

Girl Meets Boy tells the story of sisters Imogen and Anthea Gunn, both are at pivotal points in their lives but for completely different reasons. They have grown up loving but not quite understanding each other in Inverness and working for the mass global firm Pure. However things start to change when Anthea leaves/is sacked and on her way out meets rebellious Robin a girl who is writing anti-capitalist slogans on the Pure Head Office walls.

The chapters of the novel switch between sisters, we here how Anthea falls for Robin and then the shock of Imogen to Anthea's sexuality (which is hilarious) and onto Imogen's discovery about corporations and the ways in which they work. Ali Smith manages to feed us lots of information about sexuality, globalisation and women's rights and yet make it light hearted and upbeat which is quite a feat. The most important theme in the novel is love, something its incredibly optimistic about which is a joy to read.

Like good myths of old there is a lot of surrealism in the novel, not masses, but a bit. After reading the opening line `let me tell you about when I was a girl, our grandfather says' I wasn't sure I was going to enjoy the book, with a sneaking suspicion it might go over my head. I was proved wrong and frankly after having read some of Ali Smiths novels before (I must revisit The Accidental this year) should have know I was in safe hands. The prose is beautiful and you can't help think that the old myth creators of the past would read this novel and think it was wonderful, I certainly did.
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on 30 May 2012
Ali Smith tackles Ovid and metamorphosis in Girl Meets Boy. The book is about two sisters and their relationship and It is in my opinion a story well told. The themes are primarily homophobia, sexism, sexuality and love. It is divided into sections and each section is viewed from a different perspective. The book is fairly short but it packs a lot into a few pages. I have only read one other book by Smith but I certainly rate her as a writer. I finished this book last night and I already I want to read it again.
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on 14 March 2016
Be aware that this is a very short book! So, you don't get too many pages for your money but you do get some great writing and an interesting take on an old tale. There's the usual 'Ali Smith' magical feel to it all and a happy ending. I do love a happy ending!
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The Canongate myths series goes from strength to strength with this addition to the oeuvre. Ali Smith has created a remarkably sweet and funny version of Ovid's gender swapping myth of Iphis, the young Cretan princess brought up as a man to save her life.

The story is transposed to modern day Scotland and the story of two sisters struggling to find love and their place in the world. Set against two contemporary stories of the politics of water and the rights of modern women it manages to tell some shocking truths in a palatable way by weaving them into a story of love and coming of age.

It reminded me in parts very much of the style of Jeanette Winterson, particularly in her earlier works like Sexing The Cherry. But as I love Jeanette Winterson this is no bad thing at all.
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on 24 August 2011
What a gem of a book! A joyful, playful myth about a myth: an absolute, transcendant triumph with a surface sparkle that takes the reader deep into issues of what it means to be a woman, gender, capitalism, misogyny, homophobia, infanticide and sexuality. As previous reviewers have noted, it's a retelling of the Iphis myth, from Ovid's Metamorphoses, but you don't have to be a classicist to appreciate it. Trust Ali Smith, she knows exactly what she's doing. Yes - the opening section leaves the reader with a 'What on earth?' response, intentionally so. Read on and it all unfolds beautifully, resonating with that magical power that myths still possess.

Reduced to the bare narrative facts - Anthea and Imogen, sisters in Inverness working in the creative department of a bottled water company that has secret plans to dominate and control the world's water supply - it sounds pedestrian. But Smith's understanding of how myths work and her pyrotechnic writing skills set the text sparkling. It's playfully peppered with hundreds of literary allusions, from Shakespeare and Joyce to popular culture. It's witty and funny and whimsical (how I loved Eau Caledonia!) and has the most wonderful sex scene. More poetry than prose in places, it's a dancing, virtuoso piece of writing that reaches heights and resounds more deeply than straightforward prose allows.

Ultimately this is a book celebrating the feminine. It's a call to women's arms: it reminds us of the way things still are for most women in the world 2000 years on from Ovid, it shows us how gender stereotyped we are, how cowed by capitalism and social conformity, and it reminds us that there are other ways if we are prepared to step out of our boxes and see things differently. And it's a love story - and what a description of falling in love, too.

Readers who like a traditional narrative in which everything is ploddingly clear may find the style and the sheer playfulness challenging, but please give this a try. It is one of those books which can make you cry and set you flying at the same time, and they are beyond price.
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on 25 October 2013
I purchased this book as a recommended read for my University module on Criticism and Literary Theory. I found it a very quick read, with a great writing style. The subject matter is definitely food for thought and the book ties in very well with my studies.
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on 26 July 2009
This is the first book by Ali Smith i have read, and it won't be the last!

I don't want to spoil the story, and many other reviews go over the myth, but from someone who has never heard of the myth it was well told and portrayed in the reflection of modern day.

Beautifully written, deff a book to buy and keep on your shelf as a feel good book on a cold winters evening.
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