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5th December
2008
written by Steph
The Accidental

Yikes. There are evidently people out there who really liked this book. Those people are not me. These are people who probably love Virginia Woolf novels and Jackson Pollack paintings. If I had known that The Accidental was all stream-of-consciousness, I probably wouldn’t have picked it up. That type of writing is generally not something I respond well to. I’ve never made it through a Virginia Woolf novel (despite having picked up Mrs. Dalloway at least three times), and after having slogged through this novel by Smith, I don’t think I ever will. Now I know that I can read stream of consciousness drivel should I so choose… I just won’t ever elect to again in the future! So, at least this novel taught me that. The Accidental is ostensibly about a family of four that is on the verge of collapse as each individual member feels alienated from the family as a whole. Then everything (supposedly) changes when a mysterious stranger literally shows up on their doorstep and inserts herself into their lives. In reality, however, this book is really not about anything, however, because despite various things happening and many incomprehensible things being thought, nothing of real substance actually occurs. This book is, I feel, really just a writing exercise for Ms. Smith. And the thing about the writing is that it feels a lot like the poetry I wrote for my high school’s annual writing competition, “The Writes of Spring”. I smugly assumed my frenetic deluge of random words - each one making the “poem” increasingly vague and nonsensical – would somehow trick people into thinking of my writing as “deep”. It is annoying to read things like this:
Million a tesserae was shattered he no possible, no with together putting back . Front,sides,of splinters a splintery self,remainder of a,a window shutting – glass that so fell smashed and out look ! fuck damn on stones the there lay if as malevolent bare feet for unnoticing – with a slam eh ? what ? a pieces in man,in a meant fragments,heart,rags skin instead of a . Overcasing the state ? was he ? know,you – mosaic means bits. So do tesserae before done the work, to make them,what ? do things togther ? Is a ? make do ? to whole (denied a man in love fragments his soul).
What does any of that rubbish even mean? Whatever Smith felt she needed to convey, why like that? If you were an editor, what would you even do if you came across this? How do you offer any feedback other than lots of red underlining and ???!?!? To be fair, the whole book is not written like this. But this is really something that does appear in the book. I want to know from someone who enjoyed this book, what exactly this said to them. While I didn’t really enjoy the style of the rest of the book, when I got to the segment that was written like the above, I kind of started to become furious that this was published, and even worse, had won awards. Again: Yikes. Maybe my problem is that I have never really enjoyed reading poetry for pleasure, either… certainly some people have suggested this book is poetic in nature. But deep down, I suspect that the problem I have with this book does not fundamentally have to do with me. I suspect people worry that they will look stupid if they point out that the Emperor is not wearing any clothes, but I’m willing to risk that bullet. I think this is not clever and daring, I think it is a bad book. Perhaps Smith was trying to be overly clever. But rather than feeling like her inane ramblings came together to reveal something that would have otherwise been lost had she say, obeyed the rules of the English language, I instead felt like any meaning was obfuscated by her ridiculous torrent of words. Initially, I was very disdainful of the blurb from the New York Times on the front cover that pronounced this book (amongst other things) “jazzy”. Turns out, this was like jazz, in that I don’t like jazz music either! Glimmers of a good story and even strong character voices got swamped in atrocious style. In the end, I find myself wondering “what was the point?” only to come up rather empty-handed. Seriously, I can’t believe this book won awards. Yikes. Rating: 1.5 out of 5

2 Comments

  1. […] it up again. More recently, The Accidental by Ali Smith infused me with a burning hot rage (see here) and has potentially set me against the stream-of-consciousness style […]

  2. […] for nepotism!). For September, I elected to try Ali Smith’s latest novel, There But For The, despite having reviewed one of her books way back when I first started this blog and not having (m)an…. I probably would have been fine living an Ali-Smith-free existence, but her new book did sound […]

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