Sunday, December 18, 2011

Ali Smith

Have you heard of her? No? Well, neither had I.

 However, she is the author of my 96th, count 'em, book of the year. Don is quite confident that, if I ignore the yard, forget all movies even though the academy awards are coming up, allow the dust bunnies to accumulate under the bed, and utilize the upcoming holidays, I will reach my goal of 100 books read for 2011. Maryellen, laugh if you will, I know you're way higher than that but, for me, it's a record.

So back to Ms. Smith, a Scot who lives in England and has been on the shortlist for pretty much all of the prestigious British prizes for literature including the Orange Prize and the Man Booker. Described by The Guardian as "profoundly clever," Ms. Smith's extremely clever (in the best sense of the word) character, a precocious young lady named Brooke Bayaude, is perhaps the most delightfully impish, smart, deep-thinking young person I've met in a book in a long time. I wonder if she is Ms. Smith's alter-ego?

The novel, one of the year's best on every list I've seen so far, is called There But For The, and to tell the truth I almost gave it up because it was causing me to think too much! I had the feeling that the author was trying to make a point that was so far over my head that I just couldn't do the work. But I was 100 pages in and decided to relax and go for the ride. It has left me with a jumble of emotions and thoughts that may sound disjointed but I'll try to explain.

Ostensibly this novel has been touted as a book about a man, Miles Garth, who attends a dinner party at a posh residence as the guest of another man, Mark, whom he's only just met. At some point between the main meal and the dessert, Miles excuses himself, goes upstairs and doesn't return. It seems that he has locked himself in the guest room refusing to come out. Now you may ask, how does one build an entire storyline around this odd occurrence? And, of course, this is where the genius of the writer comes into play.

Over the course of 30 or 40 years this man, Miles Garth, has touched many lives, some fleetingly, others more deeply, as have we all whether we stop to think about it or not. Moving fluidly back and forth through time, using the metaphor of the atomic clock in Greenwich, Ms. Smith takes readers deep into the lives of some of those fortunate folks who have interacted with Miles. There are some "ah ha" moments and then there are questions that are never answered. There are moments of melancholy and beauty and some laugh out loud moments too.

And thankfully, there is Brooke, a child of such sensitivity and brilliance, such compassion and joie de vivre, that my heart lifted with every page she inhabited. Through Brooke the author shows us the utter foolishness of humankind. The greediness of Mrs. Lee, the hostess who parlayed Miles' disturbing disruption of her home life into a cottage industry of t-shirts, coffee mugs, and twitter feeds, and the general public who, as disenfranchised as the Occupy Wall Streeters, have camped for months under the window where Miles, now know as Milo, shows his hand once a day to accept the food offered up by pulley in a basket. 

I was mesmerized by this novel, the way the author pulled me in against my will. I hope to begin the new year by going back and reading some of her previous work. Still, I don't think this is a book for everyone. It's so erudite that I'm convinced I would not even be able to lead a book discussion on it. I know that I've missed some very profound truths posited by this book and I'd love to hear a professor expound upon it at length but, hey, places to go, things to do, and book number 97 to begin this afternoon. Thanks for reading!


TooManyBooks said...

Don't feel bad, I think I might just get to 110 this year, if I'm lucky. I'll finish 105 today.

Sallyb said...

That's fantastic. My sister hit 110 too. reading time is being supplanted by our latest substitute for MI-5. We've started watching Damages.