I’ve been wanting to read a lot more Ali Smith for a bit, and The Accidental felt like a perfect place to start. It’s easy, I think, to be a little bit intimidated by the authors and the books that win all of the awards because sometimes it can feel like you’re missing something if you don’t like them. Your read can feel lesser somehow. But here’s the thing: it isn’t. Your reading is your own and no reading is more important than another. And even if you think you don’t get something, or don’t quite understand what it is you’ve got or are definite that you didn’t like it, then that’s totally fine. Let yourself recognise the value of participating in that story, of experiencing it. Because that’s what matters. Your reading.
Books like this? They live for reading.
The Accidental by Ali Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
It’s not often that I reach for the word ‘luminous’ to describe a book but then I read The Accidental and everything changed. This is luminous, this is airy, fiercely stylish writing, and it is full of a bright and unique beauty. I loved it, this story of the long hot summer where everything changes for the Smart family. A visitor arrives, her name is Amber, and she is here to make difference. Each member of the family will be changed by their interactions with her, and the way that Ali Smith capures them is so, so good.
Let’s dwell on that notion of something being luminous for a moment longer, because I always think it’s interesting to do that sort of thing. It’s easy to throw it into a book review because it feels like the sort of space that should have such words. Luminous. Shining. Giving off light. And yes, The Accidental is set within one of those bright, burnished summers that Britain can quite perfectly conjure when the fates allow, but it also captures the quality of that summer through its stylistics. Smith cartwheels through a multitude of character perspectives, shifting style and tone and voice depending on who’s talking and what they want us to know. Some sections come in sonnets that range from self-deprecating through to wry through to laugh out loud; others chapters render themselves as deliciously vivid teenage stream of conscious (some of the best, I think), whilst others just sort of kaleidoscope through reams of cinema and film references. Luminous. Every inch of it.
One of the things to mention as well is that it took me some time to read this, because there’s a lot of it to read. That seems a slightly ridiculous thing to say, but let me explain (it’ll make sense, I promise). A book like this is something of a web that connects not only to itself but things located in the wider world, both fictional and real. And so, for example, the pages and references to film connect not only to the film but also the story of that film, the moment of that film, the weight of it. A sentence, then, can include a thousand others. A word, a thousand worlds. The great joy of The Accidental is that you can pause from the book itself and slide through all those worlds (my joy, for example, over a reference to Burt Lancaster and Gina Lollobrigida in ‘Trapeze’!) before coming back to the story of The Accidental itself. (But maybe, now that I think about it, you don’t ever leave this story, and you’re just travelling the web and the weft of this luminous world).
(I said I’d make sense. I’m not sure I have in the slightest!)
Perhaps the trick to The Accidental is to take a joy in just experiencing it. There’s so much here to lose yourself in. So much light, so much style, so much, so much.
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