Monthly Archives: November 2013

There But For The, Ali Smith


This was one of those incredibly quirky but profound books. Well worth reading. The books starts thus:

“The fact is, imagine a man sitting on an exercise bike in a square room. He’s a pretty ordinary man except that across his eyes and also across his mouth it looks like he’s wearing letterbox flaps. Look closer and his eyes and mouth are both separately covered by little grey rectangles. They’re like the censorship strips that newspapers and magazines would put across people’s eyes in the old days before they could digitally fuzz up or pixellate a face to block the identity of the person whose face it is.”

It’s an unusual way to start a book – even more unusual because it is a segment of a story within a story and a few pages into this narrative the narrative voice falls out and there is a wonderful pause as readers are launched into the first chapter, called THERE …

“THERE once was a man who, one night between main course and the sweet at a dinner party, went upstairs and locked himself in one of the bedrooms of the house of the people who were giving the dinner party.”

And thus begins the main narrative strand of this novel. Miles is our protagonist who gracefully disappears mid-meal and locks himself way. The novel unravels, exploring various tangents of Miles’ life and the lives of the people whose house it is … Miles gains celebrity status, attracting a crowd of onlookers who come to see if he will show himself, if he indeed exists.

This is the cleverness of Smith’s book and it would be betraying the book itself to give away much more. All I will leave you with is one of the book’s messages:

“the fact is, that at the top of any mountain you’ll feel a bit dizzy because of the air up there. Cleverness is great. It’s a really good thing, when you have it. But there’s no point in just having it. You have to know how to use it. And when you know how to use your cleverness, it’s not that you’re the cleverest anymore, or are doing it to be cleverer than anyone else like it’s a competition. No. Instead of being the cleverest, the thing to do is become a cleverest.”