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The Accidental Arresting and wonderful The Accidental pans in on the Norfolk holiday home of the Smart family one hot summer There a beguiling stranger called Amber appears at the door bearing all sorts of unexpected gifts trampling over family boundaries and sending each of the Smarts scurrying from the dark into the lightA novel about the ways that seemingly chance encounters irrevocably transform our understanding of ourselves The Accidental explores the nature of truth the role of fate and the power of storytelling

  • Paperback
  • 306 pages
  • The Accidental
  • Ali Smith
  • English
  • 15 May 2015
  • 9780141010397

About the Author: Ali Smith

Ali Smith is a writer born in Inverness Scotland to working class parents She was raised in a council house in Inverness and now lives in Cambridge She studied at Aberdeen and then at Cambridge for a PhD that was never finished In a 2004 interview with writing magazine Mslexia she talked briefly about the difficulty of becoming ill with chronic fatigue syndrome for a year and how it for

10 thoughts on “The Accidental

  1. says:

    I really enjoyed Ali Smith’s How to be Both; this one for me was hit 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 cliché 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 eual 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 little than a cliché – it doesn’t matter that he himself comes to accept himself as a cliché 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’s artistry in Krauss’ playfulness Smith by comparison can come across as both whimsical and pretentious Also thematically Krauss is rigorously 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 uirkily elouent 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

  2. says:

    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 a accessible and modern Sound and Fury is a doozy Like what is happening here? is the main uestion 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 theseThe crazy play with structure is indeed the premiere element which makes the novel unforgettable

  3. says:

    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 downEve assumes she is one of Michael’s student conuests 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 uestions get insistent 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 lifeInterspersed 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 ExpressI 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 eually brokenWe are glad to inform you The matter officially closedThe end resultthey’ve got away with itThe end resultno one really wants to knowHe 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 BlackI chock this one up as a bedazzling and wonderful read and recommend it to those who like uirky 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

  4. says:

    I cannot believe this book is on the 1001 books list Do the people who write the list not like people who read books any? Why would they punish us so? 1001 list writers once again I uestion you Why?I didn't enjoy reading it and to say I found the story a pointless and unrewarding read is probably an understatement The book seemed to be nothing than a series of poorly strung together literary devices or maybe it was a vehicle for the trundling out of a series of literary devices to show how many literary devices there areAnyway whatever they made the story seem too contrived and dull None of the characters were engaging nor did they warrant any sympathy empathy or any other kind of pathy A prime example being Dr Michael Smart all round nauseating self obsessed academic with a penchant for thinking and talking about himself in the third person and for bedding his students Note the two activities need not be mutually exclusive for the tedious Dr Smart That said I can vouch that he is a good representative mash up of many male academics that I have known and not lovedThere were small part of this book I did enjoy though I liked pages 103 105 They were very clever indeed so well done for that Also I laughed out loud when Magnus describes the film Love Actually as being like watching a really long building society advertisement hahahahaha I've given the book a 15 mark based on the last gag alone

  5. says:

    I don't relish giving a book one star but The Accidental was the rare book that I found so unreadable that I couldn't even finish it The writing style was very affected and intentionally obtuse making the book unpleasant and difficult to read The characters were whiny and self involved beyond all reason There were huge logic gaps such as why Amber was allowed to hang about the house uninvited and unknown to all of them hello? and pithy observations Ugh I struggled and struggled with this one because I really like to see even the bad books through to the end In this case I decided life is simply too short Oh well

  6. says:

    A flat out triumph of structure style shifting narrative voices rhythm and language A pitch perfect technical masterpiece Split into three components—the beginning the middle and the end—the story moves between four perspectives daughter son father mother Each section describes various events around a holiday trip to Norwich and the arrival of Amber a charismatic drifter who changes her behaviour to accommodate each personA very tight free indirect style is deployed to bring the third person narrator as close to each character as possible from Astrid sulky teenager daughter and her show off vocab Magnus sulky teenage son and his mathematical attempts to work through grief Michael philandering father and his embarrassing poetic endeavours and Eva writer mother and her resigned melancholy her cosy middle England spirit Each voice is rendered with tonal precision and demonstrates a mastery instructional to all writersAmber is the central catalyst of the book little portions between each section are devoted to her voice or what is assumed to be her voice the one trigger that sends the story and characters into strange spirals while their mundane domestic dramas continue undisturbed She steps into the novel as an unrestrained truly free individual and compromises the stifling repression rippling at the heart of this typical familyThe techniue is very close to Sorrentino’s Aberration of Starlight another complete triumph of structure and style If you care about truly spectacular writing and appreciate a writer successfully spinning plates than is frankly human The Accidental will knock you flat on your ass as it did me Genius— The best definition of this can be found in James Wood’s How Fiction Works

  7. says:

    I adore Ali Smith’s Seasonal books looking forward to them every year The Accidental is my first foray into Smith’s backlist and it did not disappointIt is so interesting to compare this novel published than a decade earlier to her later ones Smith’s signature wordplay and exuberant style is all there and I find it such a joy to read It just tickles my brain on a specific wavelength that few other writers can match Another feature in common these books are completely grounded in their respective moment There’s an attentiveness to that as if the novels are carefully constructed time capsules This one is ‘2003’ At the same time you can really get a sense of how Smith has grown as a writer The Accidental comes across at times as a bit arch a bit glib and like Smith is performing for an audience whereas her later novels are welcoming And as much as I appreciated the meta commentary on clichés it’s a bold move to deliberately build a novel out of them This plot and these characters hold no real surprises but I say ‘who cares?’ Ali Smith’s clever kinetic prose is irresistible to me

  8. says:

    This started off really good But it just died on me I found it got really boring Did not finish

  9. says:

    The stranger who arrives in mysterious circumstances and turns a household on its ear may be familiar literary trope but Ali Smith does it with such panache and vivacity the familiar becomes fresh and revelatory The Accidental shows the rusted and broken bits inside the moral compass of the Smarts a bourgeois British family of four on summer holiday in a drab northern England town Eve Smart is mid list novelist and mother of 17 year old Magnus and 12 year old Astrid Michael Smart husband and step father is a philandering professor of English It becomes all to easy to detest the Smart mère et père for they are eye rollingly entitled and pretentious but this novel is about the kids And it is in their voices that Smith's prose shines like a beacon Teen aged Magnus has retreated deep within himself grappling with his complicity in the tragic death of a classmate and the particular bewilderment of a privileged young man who has everything but the attention of his parents Flitting about like a moth is young Astrid a budding videographer and keen observer of the arbitrary and contrary unfolding around her Astrid is the novel's strongest voice the character I could have spent all of my time with for her innocence is genuine her clear heart a clean space in which to linger after being sullied in the moral decrepitude of her ineffectual parents And what of that mysterious stranger? The enigmatic Amber arrives Chez Smart and moves in yet no one in the family is uite up to admitting they have no idea who she is or how she found them Her past feels irrelevant to the story yet the stream of consciousness snippets indicate she was born in a movie theatre called Alhambra some three decades prior She seems conjured out of legend an imp a sprite beautiful and irreverent and frankly rather mean spirited and of uestionable moral judgment She drills under the skin of each family member dragging them out of their emotional malaise and entrancing each before blowing the nuclear family to bits figuratively speaking Far be it from me however to give anything away Ali Smith plays with form here as one would expect but I would hazard a guess that this is one of her traditional narrative structures Points of view shift here and there with meltdown riffs that shake the reader up before moving her along I loved this book Truly whetted my literary appetite for Ali Smith

  10. says:

    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 husbandstep fatherEnglish 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 Wifemother 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 uite 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 it And Michael considering the power of phrases that become clichés 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 cliché 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 entry Michael 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

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