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The Accidental by Ali Smith
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The Accidental (2005)

by Ali Smith

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
2,385952,619 (3.19)1 / 311
  1. 10
    Bee Season by Myla Goldberg (sharlene_w)
  2. 00
    The Past by Tessa Hadley (shaunie)
    shaunie: Both feature families retreating to an idyllic summer house, but Hadley's book thankfully doesn't have the clever-clever touches which sometimes mar Smith's work.
  3. 01
    Case Histories: A Novel by Kate Atkinson (Sarasamsara)
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English (92)  Swedish (1)  Italian (1)  Dutch (1)  All (95)
Showing 1-5 of 92 (next | show all)
This book was very quirky, and there were large parts of it that I really enjoyed... but there were also parts that just seemed totally irrelevant and confusing. I was enjoying it, and then the end happened and now I just don’t know.

The writing is so good. The family is dysfunctional, but in the way that many are today. I think if I wasn’t so baffled, this would have been a solid pick. ( )
  sprainedbrain | Jul 3, 2018 |
Chapters are told alternately by members of the Smart family. Each one is candid, distinctive, yet prosaic. They deliver their narration in stream of consciousness style, recording each thought, memory, no matter how trifling. The collective accounts provide the complete story of events in the summer of 2003 as if from under a microscope. I can appreciate the quirky ingenuity in Smith's writing but ultimately found the novel unsatisfying and more like a writing class exercise. I wanted more interaction, fewer bodily functions. ( )
  VivienneR | Jun 21, 2018 |
Very difficult to read but reveals humour and other treasures at a second attempt. ( )
  Lit.Lover | Apr 29, 2018 |
Urg! The Accidental by Ali Smith will not be among my list of favorite books of the year by any means, I really struggled with this one. I felt that although the author’s writing was stellar, the book felt like she was showing the rest of us how intelligent she is and the result felt more like a writing experiment than a novel. I saw one review that called this book original, restless and morally challenging and I would agree with all of that, although to me these were not necessarily compliments.

Although the story started out interestingly enough, it all too soon descended into a pointless, affected and difficult to read conglomeration of clever words and phrases. At the half way point in the book, I realized that I really didn’t have a clue as to what was going on nor did I care. I did struggle on but I more or less skimmed the last half of the book. The Accidental won many book awards and received gushing reviews from the critics so I am going to assume the fault lies with me and that this was simply too challenging a read for me at this time. ( )
  DeltaQueen50 | Mar 21, 2018 |
A stranger turns up in the midst of a family spending the summer in a rented house in Norfolk, and they are all so preoccupied with their individual concerns that they just assume she's got a good reason for being there and that one of the others must have invited her in. The sense of disconnection is enhanced by Smith's use of parallel narratives from the four family members, who of course all see something quite different. And then there's a fifth narrative voice, someone called "Alhambra" after the cinema where they were conceived(*), who might or might not be the same as the mysterious stranger, Amber, but is clearly locked into a world in which the narrative conventions of cinema rule, and we soon realise that a lot of what happens in the book is a kind of awful real-life transfer of things that would make perfect sense on the screen.

Like most strangers who turn up in fiction (and like the stranger in Smith's latest book, Winter) Amber acts as a plot-catalyst, pushing the four members of the family towards a resolution of their problems and making them actually talk to each other. But of course it's not as simple as stranger turns up and problems are resolved - whilst she offers them each what might well be the thing they most need in the short term, she also takes or destroys a great deal in the process - finding resolution is not a pain-free process, and there are no fairy godmothers in this book.

Literature comes in too - one of the characters is an Eng Lit lecturer who has lost interest in anything except the transitory enjoyment of sleeping with his students, and it's great fun when his section of the narrative keeps sliding into a pastiche of the Great Poetry he's been teaching without any conviction all these years...

As you would expect, the book is set in a very precise historical moment (the summer and autumn of 2003) and there are a lot of Smith's usual funny and clear-sighted comments on current affairs - it's striking how many of the things that were grabbing our attention just over a decade ago have faded to the backs of our minds already - the abuse of Iraqi prisoners, the failure of the Millennium Dome, Love Actually and the rise of the Islingtocracy, bookshops with cafés, DV camcorders. But there are other topics that haven't gone away, where Smith was probably a bit ahead of the pack in singling them out: the omnipresence of CCTV cameras, public-private spaces, social media bullying.

---
(*)Out of curiosity, I had a look to see if there really was an Alhambra in Inverness - wouldn't you know it, there's an excellent online database of defunct Scottish cinemas (http://www.scottishcinemas.org.uk/index.html) and it turns out that there were eleven Alhambras in Scotland, but none of them in the right place. The Inverness cinema that would match the circumstances of the novel best was called "La Scala", which doesn't really make for a plausible baby name... ( )
2 vote thorold | Dec 1, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 92 (next | show all)
Ms. Smith can do suicidal teenage angst and middle-aged ennui, a 12-year-old's sardonic innocence and an aging Lothario's randy daydreams with equal aplomb. And in riffing on the stream of consciousness form, pioneered by such high-brow litterateurs as Joyce and Woolf, she manages to make it as accessible and up to the minute (if vastly more entertaining) as talk radio or an Internet chat room.
 
The awkwardness of the novel's moralizing is all the more disconcerting given its fine, lustrous texture on the page. Smith is a wizard at observing and memorializing the ebb and flow of the everyday mind — Astrid musing that "hurtling sounds like a little hurt being, like earthling, like something aliens from another planet would land on earth and call human beings who have been a little bit hurt." The close-up is Smith's forte. Her long shots need a little work.
 

» Add other authors (17 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Smith, Aliprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Alfsen, MereteTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Drews, KristiinaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Moore, RuthNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nielsen, StinaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
O'Neill, HeatherNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Prebble, SimonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Woodman, JeffNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
"Between the experience of living a normal life at this moment on the planet and the public narratives being offered to give a sense to that life, the empty space, the gap, is enormous" -John Berger/

"Shallow uniformity is not an accident but a consequence of what Marxists optimistically call late capitalism" -Nick Cohen/

"The whole history dwindled soon into a matter of little importance but to Emma and her nephews:-- in her imagination it maintained its ground, and Henry and John were still asking every day for the story of Harriet and the gypsies, and still tenaciously setting her right if she varied in the slightest particular from the original recital" -Jane Austen/

"Many are the things that man Seeing must understand. Not seeing, how shall he know What lies in the hand Of time to come?" - Sophocles/

"My artistry is a bit austere." -Charlie Chaplin/
Dedication
for Philippa Reed, high hopes/ Inuk Hoff Hansen, far away so close/Sarah Wood, The wizard of us
First words
My mother began me one evening in 1968 on a table in the cafe of the town's only cinema.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0141010398, Paperback)

Before writing The Accidental, Ali Smith wrote Hotel World, shortlisted for both the Orange Prize and the Man Booker Prize, and several short story collections. Her work is absolutely original, with a trademark quirky style, with whole passages that seem to have been bound into the wrong book and occasional historical asides completely outside the narrative line. Don't be fooled; with Smith, every word has a purpose.

Amber is the catalyst who makes the novel happen. She appears on the doorstep of the Smart's rented summer cottage in Norfolk, England, barefoot and unexpected. Eve Smart, a third-rate author suffering writer's block, believes that she is a friend of her husband's. Michael is a womanizing University professor, but he doesn't usually drag his quarry home. He thinks that she must be a friend of Eve's. Everyone is politely confused and Amber is invited to dinner. She is a consummate liar and manipulator who manages to seduce everyone in the family in some significant way.

Magnus, Eve's 17-year-old son from a former marriage and Astrid, her 12-year-old daughter, are easy prey. Magnus is in despair. He played a prank on a classmate and it went horribly wrong when she killed herself because of the humiliation it caused. He cannot shake the guilt and is about to hang himself from the shower rod when Amber walks into the bathroom, the perfect deus ex machina. She bathes him and takes him back downstairs, announcing that she found him trying to kill himself. Everyone titters. Could it be possible? This is a recurring question as Amber's behavior becomes more and more outrageous. Is this really happening, or is it some family-wide delusion? To add to the mystery, there is a Rashomon-like character to the story in that the same events are recalled by the Smarts through their own filters.

This is a completely engrossing novel that raises as many questions as it answers. --Valerie Ryan

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:58:02 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

'The accidental' pans in on the Norfolk holiday home of the Smart family one hot summer. There, a beguiling stranger called Amber appears at the door bearing all sorts of unexpected gifts, trampling over family boundaries and sending each of the Smarts scurrying from the dark into the light.… (more)

» see all 7 descriptions

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Penguin Australia

3 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141010398, 0143566504, 0241954568

HighBridge Audio

An edition of this book was published by HighBridge Audio.

» Publisher information page

HighBridge

An edition of this book was published by HighBridge.

» Publisher information page

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