Review of The Accidental by

Book cover for The Accidental

Somehow I managed to become trapped inside a world of streaming consciousness, present tense narrative that jumped from inelegant metaphor to inelegant metaphor. I barely made it out alive, swallowing almost fifty pages before declaring defeat and making a strategic retreat to the next book on my to-read shelf.

Thank goodness I got out in time!

Ali Smith's writing style in this book is too jarring for me to get into the story and actually enjoy it. Reading this book took more effort than The Name of the Rose for significantly less return, and after nearly fifty pages, the story didn't seem to be going anywhere--which is actually an accomplishment, since at first glance there appears to be no story whatsoever.

Rather than adhering to established literary conventions, such as quotation marks to mark up dialogue, Smith has decided instead that everything should be presented in a stream of consciousness narrative in which Capital Letters make a frequent cameo and the word "substandard" reappears in awkward places. Now, I'm all for experimenting with the medium, as long as such experiments don't detract from the telling of the story itself, which is the case here. The thing about quotation marks is that they aren't just a stylistic innovation; they're actually functional devices. And I miss them.

I should have been suspicious from the cant of the reviews on the back: "Ali Smith is a true original", according to Joyce Carol Oates. Just how original I found out after the prologue.... Then "I love Ali Smith's work"--Jeanette Winterson, The Times. Well that's certainly ... informative--if only about Winterson's reading habits and not Smith's actual talent. Maggie O'Farrell is correct when she says that Smith is "a writer of incredible inventiveness, versatility and uniqueness", but I don't think I would agree with the intent behind that utterance. Lastly, the Independent must have been sent the wrong book by mistake, for it declared Smith "an extremely readable, easy-flowing writer and one of the subtlest and most intelligent around."

I wish that I could criticize the actual book itself more, but I put it down so early into the novel that it's hard to do so. I wish I could have finished it--I very seldom give up on a book, trying instead to keep an open mind and soldier on no matter how difficult it becomes. And that's the thing: there is a very fine line, more a one-dimensional edge, that separates genius voice from literary trainwreck. Douglas Coupland and Paul Quarrington have genius voice; Ali Smith has unfortunately landed on the trainwreck side of this divide--at least in my opinion.

Engagement

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