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The Accidental I was born in the year of the supersonic, the era of the multi storey multivitamin multitonic, the highrise time of men with the technology and women who could be bionic, when jump jets were Harrier, when QE was Cunard, when thirty eight feet tall the Princess Margaret stood stately in her hoverpad, the annee erotique was only thirty aircushioned minutes away and everything went at twice the speed of sound I opened my eyes It was all in colour It didn t look like Kansas any The students were on the barricades, the mode was maxi, the Beatles were transcendental It was Britain It was great This was phenomenal Skillfully structured, beautifully written, with a story that kept me flipping pages past my bedtime The story is told from four different POVs with a stream of consciousness bent and occasional experimental flare, as in the segment narrated in poetry by the serially philandering husband step father English professor, Michael Twelve year old Astrid s imaginative flights of fancy, pre teen jargon and maybe hints of ADD were an amusing ride don t be alarmed, it s not all li This was phenomenal Skillfully structured, beautifully written, with a story that kept me flipping pages past my bedtime The story is told from four different POVs with a stream of consciousness bent and occasional experimental flare, as in the segment narrated in poetry by the serially philandering husband step father English professor, Michael Twelve year old Astrid s imaginative flights of fancy, pre teen jargon and maybe hints of ADD were an amusing ride don t be alarmed, it s not all like this Wife mother and blocked writer Eve grapples with the memory and problems of her own family of origin while she struggles with professional challenges in a project that consists of the Genuine article series autobiotruefictinterviews , although the articles are actually quite speculative Magnus s teenage angst has legitimate foundations he s been involved in a prank gone very wrong and is suffering the torments of hellish guilt until an intervention by the character who is the engine of the story Amber, the charismatic, unpredictable, and mysterious visitor, insinuates herself into the household while they are on holiday and changes all their perceptions and lives Amber s possible story is told in occasional short interstitial pages that create a mythology that we are offered to take or leave as a history of the interloper Eve seems to be the only one who gets Amber and is the one who finally ejects her, but not without repercussions Film, photography and media create a motif From Astrid s juvenile film projects to various discussions about movies, TV programming, and porn sites, and the story of Amber s conception in a cinema, the preservation of a fleeting moment in photographs or film illuminates themes such as the difference between reality, whatever that is, and pictures and stories, and does it even matter What is known, and how, and by whom There were some lovely bits of writing From Eve s contemplation of her daughter s growing up Poised before her own adulthood like a young deer before the head of a rose Deer love to eat roses Standing there on her too thin legs, innocent, unsturdy, totally unaware that the future had its gunsight trained directly on her Dark round the eyes Kicky and impatient, blind as a kitten stupefied by all the knowing and the not knowing Everything about her asked for attention, the way she walked across a room or a shop or across the forecourt of a petrol station, leaning into the air in front of her as if about to lose her balance, mutely demanding that someone Eve, who else put out the flat of her hand and let Astrid push her forehead or her shoulder into itAnd Michael considering the power of phrases that become clich s simply because they are so powerful, as he is gobsmacked by his attraction to Amber Moth plus flame Right here, right now, Michael had seen and felt and heard the precise drama of the moment when that moth wing singed and went brittle in the candle He had felt the whole substantial impact of individual moth hitting individual table He had felt these things, yes,acutely,truly,surprisedly, than he had maybe felt anything since he was, oh, he didn t know, a fresh faced clich twelve year old, and not a twelve year old like that one over there either, he thought to himself, casting a glance over the top of the bland combed hair of the head of Eve s curmudgeonly girl, not a twelve year old now, when nothing was new and everything was so already known and been and done and postmodern t shirt regurgitated, no, he meant a back then tank topped twelve year old at the side of deep water, laying deep in the long grass and the noise of summer, the sweet core line of a piece of the grass in his mouth, when for the first time he saw two insects, two flies of some kind, long legged waterflies, metonym you might say for the whole of summer, and the one was on the other s back in a sheer frenzy of what Michael knew for sure, for the first time, the most innocent time, was entryMichael goes on to analyze various words in his ruminations Entry It was a wonderful word Sheer as a word it was calmed and smoothed yet still so bloody boyishly enthusiastic This book is a word lover s dream The family s encounter with Amber, plus some issues that had been simmering before they met her, spark a complete reordering of their thinking and their lives The last chapter belongs to Eve and is pretty much perfect I really enjoyed Ali Smith s How to be Both this one for me washit and miss A dysfunctional or normal family pretty much the same thing nowadays rents a holiday home in Norfolk One day a mysterious stranger, a woman called Amber, arrives and ends up moving in with them All four members of the family metaphorically are very much waiting for an amber light to turn to green and Amber s redemptive role is to reveal how this light might be changed The first problem for me was Amber her I really enjoyed Ali Smith s How to be Both this one for me washit and miss A dysfunctional or normal family pretty much the same thing nowadays rents a holiday home in Norfolk One day a mysterious stranger, a woman called Amber, arrives and ends up moving in with them All four members of the family metaphorically are very much waiting for an amber light to turn to green and Amber s redemptive role is to reveal how this light might be changed The first problem for me was Amber herself She s something of a clich as an inspirational free spirit More of a new age traveller than a sorceress or annunciation angel Her remedies for the supposedly stifling middle class malaise gripping the family this malaise isn t altogether convincing are somewhat hackneyed She introduces the son Magnus to sex and teaches Astrid to be hostile to public opinion and property In fact there s a kind of hollow hippy philosophy at the back of this novel Amber doesn t really have any convincing alternative reality to offer, though Smith tries to convince us, unsuccessfully for me, that her belligerent ministrations are empowering, redemptive, life changing The other big problem is the unevenness of the characters Each of the family members gets an equal share of the narrative The females, especially the young Astrid are compelling and penetratively imagined the two males, on the other hand, are flat and unconvincing Husband and stepfather Michael is littlethan a clich it doesn t matter that he himself comes to accept himself as a clich a professor who serially sleeps with his students At one point he even decides he s going to pick the prettiest checkout girl in a supermarket and sleep with her an hour later he implausibly achieves his ambition in the back of his car while she s on lunchbreak At one point I remember thinking that Ali Smith is a bit like the British Nicole Krauss except there sartistry in Krauss playfulness Smith, by comparison, can come across as both whimsical and pretentious Also thematically Krauss isrigorously masterful she rarely loses control of her core material Smith, on the other hand, tends to overreach herself, go off on tangents as if she wants to include in her book everything she thinks about modern life Prime example of this is when Amber is given a voice and we get five pages of hugely pretentious prose about cinema as if therein lies the explanation for everything But for this novel to work you have to believe Amber leads the way to discovery in her disciples or victims and for me this only really worked with the pitch perfect Astrid There were times when I wished the entire novel was about Astrid with perhaps Amber as a presence only she could see and hear What saves the day is Smith s writing which is always quirkily eloquent and pulsing with vitality Her characterisation of a 12 year old girl is also one of the best I ve ever come across However if you fancy reading her I d recommend How to Be Both over this I feel like there was an age, or it IS that age, where writers love to explore with much keenness the family unit, for it is the perfect structure with which to scrutinize its individual parts The Corrections, White Teeth, The Red House, the list is almost infinite this one, aaccessible and modern Sound and Fury is a doozy Like, what is happening here is the main question through this dense but very readable firework of a novel All 4, or five, protagonists are given a very I feel like there was an age, or it IS that age, where writers love to explore with much keenness the family unit, for it is the perfect structure with which to scrutinize its individual parts The Corrections, White Teeth, The Red House, the list is almost infinite this one, aaccessible and modern Sound and Fury is a doozy Like, what is happening here is the main question through this dense but very readable firework of a novel All 4, or five, protagonists are given a very democratic framework in which to display their various personalities We trace their singular trajectories, their personalities bleed unto each vignette like a soul to some artifact authentic life stories, these.The crazy play with structure is indeed the premiere element which makes the novel unforgettable This was a fun and surprising read with lots of scintillating wonders in its delivery and content It falls into the box of experimental writing , but it flows along so fast and spritely compared to many a turgid, self important postmodern of doorstop dimensions Ali s opening epigraph from John Berger was a perfect set up Between the experience of living a normal life at this moment on the planet and the public narratives being offered to give a sense to tat life, the empty space, the gap, i This was a fun and surprising read with lots of scintillating wonders in its delivery and content It falls into the box of experimental writing , but it flows along so fast and spritely compared to many a turgid, self important postmodern of doorstop dimensions Ali s opening epigraph from John Berger was a perfect set up Between the experience of living a normal life at this moment on the planet and the public narratives being offered to give a sense to tat life, the empty space, the gap, is enormous The story is of a dysfunctional London family in summer residence in a rural town in Norfolk, with sections alternately told from the minds of an adult couple, Michael and Eve, and their kids, twelve year old Astrid and seventeen year old Magnus Astrid is largely ignored by her parents and lives in a vibrant fantasy life and projects involving documenting the world with her videocam Magnus is in a horrible limbo of probation pending investigation of his role in internet bullying of a girl that led to her suicide Eve is enjoying success as a writer of a series based on ordinary real people who died in World War 2, whom she renders in a fictional rewrite of the life they might had lived Michael is a professor of Victorian literature, failed poet, and perpetual philanderer targeting his students Into their lives comes a stranger, Amber, a 30 something woman appears at their home unannounced Sorry I m late I m Amber Car broke down.Eve assumes she is one of Michael s student conquests, and Michael assumes she is one of his wife s feminist acolytes Astrid thrives on the attention she pays her, and Magnus finds solace in her ready grasp of the hell of remorse he is in Michael is inspired by her ignoring him and smitten into lust and love by her apparent innocence and goodness Eve is gratified by her taming effects on her kids and challenged to prove her integrity in the face of being told privately by Amber that she is an expert fake Is Amber a midwife for healthy development of each character or a malevolent, lying manipulator These questions getinsistent when she destroys Astrid s camera and encourages Magnus adolescent lusts The changes in Michael and Eve evolve down strange pathways, a great satire for me who appreciates a humbling of academics prone to getting divorced from the realities of ordinary life.Interspersed with the episodes on the family are segments told by someone who calls herself Alhambra, named after the movie theater where she was conceived Her riffs on cinema history and the impact on our culture are marvelous It seems likely this is Amber, based on what she says she gained from her parents From my mother grace under pressure the uses of mystery how to get what I want From my father how to disappear, how not to exist One three page mash up of movie plots at the middle of the book is worth treasuring Perhaps self indulgent or perhaps a key to digesting the absurdist twists in the lives of supposedly ordinary people in the narrative Try a sample and see if it doesn t whet you for the whole piece But my father was Alphie, my mother was Isadora I was unnaturally psychic in my teens, I made a boy fall off his bike and I burned down a whole school My mother was crazy she was in love with God There I was on the alter about to marry someone else when my boyfriend hammered on the church glass at the back and we eloped together on a bus My mother was furious She d slept with him too The devil got me pregnant and a satanic sect made me go through with it Then I fell in with some outlaws and did me some talking to the sun I said I didn t like the way he got things done I had sex in the back of the old closing cinema I used butter in Paris I had a farm in Africa I took off my clothes in the window of an apartment building and distracted the two police inspectors from watching for the madman on the roof who was trying to shoot the priest I fell for an Italian It was his moves on the dancefloor that did it I knew what love meant It meant never having to say you re sorry It meant the man who drove the taxi would kill the presidential candidate, or the pimp It was soft as an easy chair It happened so fast I had my legs bitten off by the shark I stabbed the kidnapper, but so did everyone else, it wasn t just me, on the Orient Express.I loved how Astrid s playful, fertile mind was rendered, an internal version of her mother s characterization as Kicky and impatient, blind as a kitten stupefied by all the knowing and not knowing Innocent she may be, but she is the one to put things into perspective toward the end of the book by imaging in detail the apocalypse of an asteroid strike asteroid she tells us is one letter added to her name My biggest empathy for the characters goes to him due to Ali s method of portraying his state of guilt over his classmate s suicide and the cold arithmetic behind school s eventual decision to cover it up Everyone is broken The people talking on all the millions of tvs in the world are all broken, though they seem whole enough The tyrants are as broken as the people they broke The people being shot or bombed or burned are broken The people doing the shooting or the bombing or the burning are equally broken We are glad to inform you The matter officially closed.The end result they ve got away with it.The end result no one really wants to know He can forget it A simple act of subtraction Him minus it He can have his memory erased by a special laser pen torch, like in Men in Black.I chock this one up as a bedazzling and wonderful read and recommend it to those who like quirky tales with an underground impact that can catch you unaware As it is 10 years old, I will eagerly pursue other books from her imaginative mind

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