THERE BUT FOR THE by Ali Smith

Miles has locked himself in the spare bedroom of a house in Greenwich. It belongs to an atrocious couple he has never met before but who annually hold an ‘alternative’ dinner party for friends of friends. He refuses to come out and his hosts refuse to call a lock smith  for fear of damaging the 18th century door and frame. Instead they slip wafer thin ham under the door, despite knowing he is a vegetarian, and write a column for the magazine supplement of the Guardian, citing the title of a previous article so we are left in no doubt about their response to the squatter – ‘I was mugged by my own brother’. It  prompts well wishers to flock to Greenwich and set up camp underneath Miles’ window, sending up food parcels and attracting all the paraphernalia of a 24 hours modern news cycle and itinerant merchandising opportunities. The book is not really about this though, other than as a premise that ties together the thoughts of 4 different people who have some kind of connection with Miles, past and present. Anna, who was on a school trip with him as a teenager but who has all but forgotten him. May, in a care home and still mourning the daughter who once went out with Miles before she killed herself years ago. Precocious Brooke, who is punning her way through a difficult patch of childhood. And Mark who converses with his dead artist mother, recently tried to pick up Miles at the theatre and  is responsible for bringing him to the dinner party. The connections are tenuous and we never actually learn why Miles takes up residence in this Greenwich bedroom, but somehow this doesn’t frustrate me as it might in other novels. Perhaps because the structure and essence of THERE BUT FOR THE is all about things unfinished and unexplained, threads from the past that are still weaving their way through the present, the ripe potential of random events to send ripples into all our futures, upsetting the best laid plans. It’s executed beautifully and unlike some writing, which weighs heavy with almost self-conscious literary skill, this is light and sparky – really wonderful.

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1 Comment

Filed under comedy, drama

One response to “THERE BUT FOR THE by Ali Smith

  1. shelleyrae @ Book'd Out

    Sounds a little too odd for me but I am glad you enjoyed it so much!

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