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There But For The by Ali Smith

There But For The (2011)

by Ali Smith

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
7926917,963 (3.53)2 / 275
At a dinner party in the posh London suburb of Greenwich, Miles Garth suddenly leaves the table midway through the meal, locks himself in an upstairs room, and refuses to leave. An eclectic group of neighbors and friends slowly gathers around the house, and Miles' story is told from the points of view of four of them: Anna, a woman in her forties; Mark, a man in his sixties; May, a woman in her eighties; and a ten-year-old named Brooke. The thing is, none of these people knows Miles more than slightly. How much is it possible for us to know about a stranger? And what are the consequences of even the most casual, fleeting moments we share every day with one another?… (more)
Recently added byEmma.Atkinson, rena75, Jen_Adams, private library, pjpfodl, eatsnacksreadbooks

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English (64)  Dutch (3)  Italian (1)  Finnish (1)  All languages (69)
Showing 1-5 of 64 (next | show all)
I found this book to be boring and unimaginative, that is to say, I didn't like it. ( )
  PorcelliA | Jul 7, 2019 |
Between the main course and dessert of a dinner party at the fancy house of a couple he doesn't really know, a man goes upstairs, shuts himself into his hosts' spare room, and doesn't come out for months. But this novel isn't his story, exactly, even if he's in the center of it; it instead focuses on the stories of four people who have only slight acquaintances with him.

It's an interesting setup for a novel, structurally. And I'd heard a lot of praise for Ali Smith, so I went into this expecting, or at least wanting, to like it a lot. But I have to say, by and large it kind of left me cold. It's not that there isn't good stuff in it. There are certainly moments of interesting characterization or insight, some good turns of phrase and moments of humor (although the dinner party itself was a little too cringe-comedy for my tastes). But on the whole it just feels too self-consciously clever. (It even gets a bit meta, I think, about how self-consciously clever it is, which didn't help me feel any better about it.)

I'm wondering now if I didn't start with the right Ali Smith book, or if her writing maybe just isn't quite for me. ( )
1 vote bragan | Jan 12, 2019 |
The blurb says this is about a man locking himself in a bedroom during a dinner party. It's not. It's really about how four individuals experience and remember the world differently. They each have different memories about the man in the room - from long ago and tinted with nostalgia, recent but blurred by old age, young but obsessed with detail. A great exploration of human experience and how our understanding of the world and memories are shaped. ( )
  redwritinghood38 | Nov 6, 2018 |
Reviewers who loved this book made frequent references to the author's previous work, other novels, plays, puns etc. For me, that was not relevant to my reading this book. I read most of it while waiting for my kids to get out of their programs, and was not expecting to have to try so hard to enjoy a novel. The premise of the novel - a dinner guest locks himself in a room in a strangers' house - sounded very intriguing, but the guest, Miles, is almost irrelevant to the story. Four other characters, in four separate parts have their own stories, three of which brush by Miles'.

The parts just did not come together enough for me to enjoy the whole. Perhaps if I had read the enlightening reviews first I would have liked it more, but that point is moot. ( )
  Rdra1962 | Aug 1, 2018 |
Not my favorite Ali Smith, but she is always interesting. ( )
  GaylaBassham | May 27, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 64 (next | show all)
This lively, moving narrative is filled with such details, with historical and musical lore and, above all, with puns. All the likable characters in “There but for the” enjoy a good verbal game, most happily with someone else. It is as though playing with language is what enables them to make their way through a complicated world. It’s a knack that might also be picked up, most enjoyably, by reading Ali Smith.
This is why I … hmm … ruminate. In dragging out this tedious, dated conversation – our only insight into Miles’s actions – is Smith trying to make the reader feel what Miles felt? Is it satire? Are the other guests merely symbolic of the world’s evils? Smith is a deeply moral writer who can’t always resist moralizing, but the truth is the job of revealing truth is better done with rounded, surprising characters, such as Michael Smart in The Accidental – the student-bonking professor who teaches a seminar on cliché – and not these wearying stereotypes.

But everything else I expect from Ali Smith, and love, is here: the helium quality of her prose, its playful grab-bagginess (it includes a pair of cryptic stories separate from the main narrative, as well as instructions from the author to the typesetters), how she manages to write so lightly about subjects that are by no means trivial – time, memory, history and their relationship to language. And also what perhaps sums up her whole oeuvre, from her novels to her many collections of highly inventive short stories, the long answer to this short question: “What’s the point of human beings? I mean, what are we for?”
In her new novel, There but for the, Ali Smith deploys the conceit to satirise contemporary culture – and to ask difficult questions about history, time, epistemology and narrative. The result is a playfully serious, or seriously playful, novel full of wit and pleasure, with some premeditated frustrations thrown in for good measure.
Symbol alert! Ali Smith’s new novel opens with a perplexing prologue: a story within a story about a man on an exercise bike whose eyes and mouth are covered by what look like mailbox flaps....The plot borrows a device Ms. Smith, a Scottish author who has been shortlisted for both the Orange and Booker prizes, used in an earlier novel, “The Accidental,” in which a stranger invites herself along on a family’s summer vacation...Yet there is a thematic point to all this showing off, or to most of it, anyway. “There but for the” is ultimately a book about loss and retention: about what we forget and what we remember, about the people who pass through our lives and what bits of them cling to our consciousness.

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Smith, Aliprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Brenøe, NinnaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The essence of being human is that one does not seek perfection, that one is sometimes willing to commit sins for the sake of loyalty, that one does not push asceticism to the point where it makes friendly intercourse impossible, and that one is prepared in the end to be defeated and broken up by life, which is the inevitable price of fastening one's love upon other human individuals.
George Orwell

For only he who lives his life as a mystery is truly alive.
Stephen Zweig

I hate mystery.
Kathryn Mansfield

Of longitudes, what other way have we,
But to mark when and where the dark eclispes be?
John Donne

Every wink of an eye some new grace will be born.
William Shakespeare
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for Jackie Kay
for Sarah Pickstone
for Sarah Wood
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The fact is, imagine a man sitting on an exercise bike in a spare room.
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Enjoyed - very different book - library book
Haiku summary
Miles has gone upstairs
his small trail of kindnesses
tangled in history                                [yalliejane]

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Penguin Australia

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