There But For The: Book summary and reviews of There But For The by Ali Smith

There But For The

A Novel

By Ali Smith

There But For The

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Book Summary

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's 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?

Brilliantly audacious, disarmingly playful, and full of Smith's trademark wit and puns, There but for the is a deft exploration of the human need for separation - from our pasts and from one another—and the redemptive possibilities for connections. It is a tour de force by one of our finest writers.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. This fine, unusual novel is sweet and melancholy, indulgent of language and of the fragile oddballs who so relish in it." - Publishers Weekly

"Though some of the plot points strain credulity, when read as a fable, this is a delightful, beautifully written, touching novel that will strongly appeal to lovers of language and wordplay." - Library Journal

"By times amusing, engaging and edifying, it is punctuated with Smith’s arid observational wit, her ability to dissect language, to turn it inside out and upside down." –The Irish Independent

"A tribute to persistent literary, cultural and philosophical leitmotifs....Smith unleashes a quest on the nature and meaning of time, memory, history, art, culture, civilisation, death, loss, life and living — with a scintillating satire on contemporary society and a pilgrimage through popular culture." – The Indian Express

"You could call Ali Smith’s new novel, There But For The, a tragicomedy ... The fun comes in the form of Smith’s satire of the media ... of new technology users and of upper-middle-class snobbery ... Though the locations shift and characters appear out of nowhere, Smith agilely keeps the narrative together. Everything connects—even if the people can’t. A must-read." - Toronto NOW

"A satire on the conflict between the bourgeois lifestyle of the Lees and the anarchic goings-on of Miles and other lesser characters. If you liked Smith’s earlier fiction, you will know she enjoys setting up a situation before chucking in a literary Molotov cocktail then describing what happens.... A highly original novel." - The Sunday Express (UK)

"Off-the-wall imagination and some scintillating wordplay...A barbed satire on our times, the growing absence of opportunity for quiet reflection and our inability to truly communicate with one another in the age of the mobile phone and the internet... Smith's ear for natural dialogue from completely different social milieus is unerringly accurate. Those who take the plunge ready to go with the flow will not be disappointed." - Daily Mail (UK)

"A virtuoso piece of writing, both funny and gripping ... Smith is a writer with a rich array of conventional strengths ... Her prose responds to the world with loving attentiveness ... One of the great pleasures of her work is its harmonious mixture of pure lyricism and straightforward demotic ... Some of the best, or at least the finest writing in There But For The has to do with the effects on the mind of living in the Internet age." - The Times Literary Supplement (UK)

"Along with her cleverness and wordy wit, there is a bewitching romanticism to Smith's world, where people truly connect and leave tender imprints on each other. Both she, and they, also tell stories-within-stories." - The Independent (UK)

"Stylish, witty, offbeat and consummately likable, Ali Smith has perfected a narrative tone ideally suited to her wry, intelligent fiction." - Irish Times

"A playful yet erudite celebration of words....Smith’s prose is not just supple, it’s acrobatic: one minute providing crisp realism - cocky teenagers, unspoken homophobia, university bureaucracy - the next a hypnotic stream-of-consciousness. Smith can make anything happen, which is why she is one of our most exciting writers today. ... [Her] dizzying wordplay makes the real and surreal equally stimulating." - The Daily Telegraph (UK)

"Our physical and philosophical breakdowns are sharply satirized in this almost mythical narrative dreamed up by one of contemporary literature’s most deft and astute analysts of human nature. Another Booker nomination may well await." - The List (UK)

"A winsome, compelling read.... Smith's version [of the English dinner party] is a tour de force.... The prose is playful, intelligent and witty." - Financial Times

"A seriously playful puzzle of a novel.... Whimsically devastating.... Smith is repeatedly drawn to explorations of language games, to the moment in which what we say slips free from what we think we mean, where the generic becomes the particular, where the identity of the speaker comes under scrutiny.... Playful, humorous, serious, profoundly clever and profoundly affecting." - The Guardian (UK)

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Author Information

Ali Smith Author Biography

Photo: Sarah Wood

Ali Smith was born in Inverness in 1962 and lives in Cambridge. Her first book, Free Love and Other Stories, won the Saltire First Book Award. Her other short story collections are Other Stories And Other Stories (1999), The Whole Story and Other Stories (2003) and The First Person and Other Stories. Her novels include: Like (1997); Hotel World (2001), which won the Encore Award, the East England Arts Award of the Year and the Scottish Arts Council Book of the Year Award in 2002; The Accidental (2005), winner of the Whitbread Novel Award; and her latest There but for the which was published by Hamish Hamilton in 2011. Ali Smith also writes for the Guardian, the Scotsman and The Times Literary Supplement.

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