There but for the
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There but for the

3.25 of 5 stars 3.25  ·  rating details  ·  3,608 ratings  ·  662 reviews
From the award-winning author of "Hotel World" and "The Accidental," a dazzling, funny, and wonderfully exhilarating new novel.
At a dinner party in the posh London suburb of Greenwich, Miles Garth suddenly leaves the table midway through the meal, locks himself in an upstairs room, and refuses to leave. An eclectic group of neighbors and friends slowly gathers around the...more
Hardcover, 357 pages
Published June 2nd 2011 by Hamish Hamilton (first published 2011)
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Man Booker Prize Eligible 2011
24th out of 154 books — 254 voters
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1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die
360th out of 1,313 books — 3,330 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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karen
*floating this to irritate the person who irritated me with her comment.*

i did this book a great disservice.

at first, i plowed through it like a maniac, loving every minute of it. then, i put it down for about two days and totally lost my momentum, and when i returned, the shine was off the apple.

completely my fault.

it has been nearly a week since i have written a book review, and this feels like a less-than-triumphant return, but it is fitting - i need to be punished for my weekend hedonism an...more
B0nnie
May 16, 2012 B0nnie rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: the clever-clever cleverest
There But For The is stylized, literary fiction. It makes extensive use of:
wordplay
emails
stories
headlines
text messages
conversations
lyrics
handwritten notes
allegory
symbols

The fact is, imagine a man sitting on an exercise bike in a spare room. He’s a pretty ordinary man except that across his eyes and also across his mouth it looks like he’s wearing letterbox flaps. Look closer and his eyes and mouth are both separately covered by little grey rectangles. They’re like the censorship strips t...more
Aubrey
I'm going to start ignoring ratings. Not stop using them, but ignore them, for there is my own and then there are others and neither should have anything to do with the other, really. Humanity gets me but it's the humans that get me in two senses of the word that both don't directly point out the to get in to get. I got this book, someone got my money, somewhere together we're getting.

I thought this book would be harder. I thought I would have trouble. I thought I wouldn't be reading Women and M...more
Fionnuala
Reviewed in February 2013

There is no doubt in my mind that Ali Smith is a fine writer, a reader’s writer, maybe even a writer’s writer, although I suspect there are writers out there who think she makes it all look as easy as an unmade bed. There you go, people differ hugely in what they rate as interesting or significant, but whatever kind of writer Smith is, she’s definitely my kind, and for the long term. There will be, I hope, many more of her books to enjoy since she is one of the rare woma...more
Patrick
Will you remember me in a months time?
Yes.
Will you remember me in 6 months time?
Yes.
Will you remember me in a years time?
Yes.
Will you remember me in 2 years time?
Yes.
Will you remember me in 3 years time?
Yes.
Knock knock.
Who's there?
See, you've forgotten me already.


I used to work at a video store in college. It was a small mom and pop shop, and it was a great place to work. Since it was such a small operation, there were only a handful of other employees and I knew everyone pretty well. So you can...more
MJ Nicholls
I hate to resort to crude Americanisms, but Ali Smith is the motherfucking BOMB. Her latest novel, circa October 2011, shares a structure all but identical to The Accidental—four sections with little one-two-page prefaces—but also shares its masterful grasp over narrative voice, language, style, humour, and subtly heartbreaking strangeness.

The title refers to the first word in a significant phrase deployed in each section of the novel. For example, in the first part ‘There I was’ is used when th...more
Jimmy
THERE

is no there there, Gertrude Stein famously wrote in 1937, a sentence that loops back on itself in order to question its own grammar. Maybe what she meant was that the first there has no antecedent. But the sentence also pushes out, questions the world, questions the idea of a place in time, a time in place, that exists only because it is not here, relatively speaking.

This novel has a similar trajectory. Broken down into four sections titled There, But, For, and The, it tells an abstract sto...more
Tony
Oct 14, 2013 Tony rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Tony by: Fionnuala
Shelves: scottish, top-10-2013
There are things I now know. I now know that rabbits like licorice. I now know that Harold Arlen couldn't think of a middle-eight for the song he was writing, Somewhere Over the Rainbow. But he had a little, badly-behaved dog that kept running away. So he whistled for the dog to come back: De da de da de da de da. And now we all sing: Some day I'll wish upon a star.

But I don't know why Miles Garth left the dinner party and went upstairs and locked himself in the guest room. And I don't know why...more
Teresa
If you're new to Ali Smith and think you might like her (I can easily see that she's not everyone's 'thing'), read her brilliant short stories, or the novels Hotel World or The Accidental first. I loved those.

And if you have read all of Ali Smith, as I have, I think you will find that this book is merely okay, even tedious near the end, and that maybe instead it could've been another brilliant short story. Because what feels like excessive padding and way too much language-play (esp with the la...more
Blair
I just... don't know. I don't know about this book. Believe me when I say that I really wanted to love it. I 'saved' it for some time before beginning, and when I didn't feel much into it on the first try, I left it for a while and tried again. Everything (the premise, Smith's reputation, great reviews in the press and here on Goodreads) suggested it would be a wonderful, even revelatory read, and yet... I mean, maybe I've shot myself in the foot by reading so many books this year. Maybe I've go...more
E
Nov 04, 2011 E rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: novels
Oh, Ali Smith. You are an infuriating lover.

I know Frustration is half the fun. And I had so much fun.

But could you please just TRY to write in goddamned paragraphs?

I saw and felt the Disorientation, Stream of Consciousness and Frustration.

But I majored in poetry, and therefore I do not believe but KNOW that space allows for lyricism in all the ways your Matrix layout did not.

It's just a suggestion. Because otherwise I loved it all.

And to be honest, I don't know if I know how to love you with...more
Cheryl
Once there was an anchorite, a cleverist, a once upon a time, and a woman lost in the confines of her head.

“There was once, and there was only once; once was all there was.”

There but for the grace of god go I….
This is about compassion, empathy, understanding, putting yourself in another’s shoes.
Walk a mile in his shoes.
Miles’ shoes. It's about Miles. Miles of Miles. Miles towards Miles. Miles is miles away.

Anna did it. She was overwhelmed in others' shoes. Words words words.
“…the woman who h
...more
Lisa
This is another one of those books getting good reviews, but for me, it didn't live up to the hype. This isn't your typical book in that there's not a plot per se. The author sometimes does away with punctuation and linear notions, and even though it centers around Miles Garth who locks himself up in a guest room during a dinner party, we never truly learn about him or his motivations.

Instead, we get the perspectives of four different people who had a brief interaction with him. Mostly, each nar...more
Patty
Wow. I just want to hug this book. That incredibly rare thing, in the 2010s, a totally contemporary novel that isn't cynical or bitter or cute. Clever, yes. Very.

What's it about? I'm not sure I can articulate an answer. It might be about martyrdom. Or it might be about losing one's humanity, and trying to get it back. Or it might be about boredom and frustration and loss. It might be about horrible dinner parties filled with dreary backward privelged snobs. Or it might be about compassion, fell...more
Larou
If you look really closely, this book does have a plot; it would go something like this: Man withdraws from dinner party to barricade himself in a guest room at his hosts’ house, stays for several months, then leaves without telling anyone. Which, no matter how you view it, really is not much in the way of a plot – but then plot is not what Ali Smith’s novel There but for the is about.

What the novel is about is history, both public and private, about knowledge of the world, of ourselves and of o...more
christa
I was robbed by a British author. Not cool, Ali Smith. The masses were bleating favorably about the novel “There But For The” and frankly the premise seemed so intriguing: A man at a dinner party with a collection of strangers gets up, goes upstairs and locks himself in a spare room -- luckily one with a bathroom, unfortunately at a house not very sympathetic to his vegetarian diet. He refuses to come out for days, for weeks, until he becomes a folk hero and the locals camp out and wait for a gl...more
K.D. Absolutely
May 01, 2014 K.D. Absolutely rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2012)
This is just okay. I admire the humorous writing and the wordplays, the puns. I love the 10-y/o Brooke especially the chapter in the end and also her first encounter with Anna. I also love the cover: a painting of a chair with some clothes on it. My edition of this book is a pocketbook and it feels cool to bring around especially because it is not available here in the Philippines and I ordered my copy from Book Depository.

This is one of the 2012 new additions to 1001 Books You Must Read Before...more
switterbug (Betsey)
Scottish writer Ali Smith is a veteran writer of the unwanted house guest. In THE ACCIDENTAL, an uninvited woman shows up at a residence and turns the family upside down. In her latest novel, Miles Garth, a dinner party guest in Greenwich, leaves the dinner table, exits upstairs, locks himself in the spare room, and declines to leave. Miles is the nominal central figure of the novel, yet it is his “absent presence” and other paradoxes of human nature that are pivotal. His silence is the roar tha...more
Tze-Wen
Miles Garth, an unassuming, expensively dressed ethical advisor, is the mysterious figure around which the entire novel pivots. Many are affected when he suddenly ups and locks himself up in his dinner hosts' spare bedroom.
The book is roughly divided into four parts and each part starts with There, But, For or The. Together they shape the book's strange title. The first part is narrated by Anna Hardie, a currently unemployed former acquaintance of Miles. She is pulled into the story by a phone...more
Charity (CJ)
The fact is, this book makes me cry.

The fact is, this book is about being trapped by history. Or herstory. Yourstory and mystory. It's a mystery, mystory.

The fact is, it's brilliant (and infectious) the way Ali Smith plays with language. Puns, jokes, double entendres.

(The fact is, although I scold myself for the hours I've spent watching the racy and historically irresponsible series The Tudors, I wouldn't have caught the reference to Thomas Tallis had I not watched the show before I read this n...more
Lori Anaple
I guess I am in the minority here. I didn't even finish the book. I can live without a plot per se. I can live with the absence of paragraphs, I can live with the lack of quotation marks to indicate conversation. But all of these things must tie together with the "want" of me to read more. I simply wasn't invested in this story that wasn't about the guy who locked himself in a spare bedroom. That is right sportsfans. The book isn't about what it is supposed to be about. But even that I could hav...more
David
Ali Smith is one of those writers who is in constant danger of being too clever for her own good. This book follows a structure that is self-consciously clever, is loaded down with all kinds of puns and wordplay, has a central character who remains maddeningly opaque, and one of its four narrators is a ridiculously precocious eleven-year old, who would be completely toxic in the hands of a less gifted author. But, despite all this baggage, it works brilliantly. I found it completely engrossing,...more
Arthur
Eu. Não. Acredito. Que ainda não tinha marcado esse livro como "lido".

Na real, até acredito. Fiquei tão fucking atordoado (nesses momentos, me seguir no Twitter não deve ser muito legal, pois eu não sonego informação alguma sobre choros, corizas, soluços, nós na garganta e rangeres de dentes) que meio que esqueci da vida (e da rede social literária).

Li as partes 1 (Lá) e 2 (Mas) cada uma num dia, sem parar. Foi massa conhecer a Anna e o Mark era TÃO legal que pensei, ah, vou deixar o livro de mo...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
"'There but for the' is ultimately a book about loss and retention: about what we forget and what we remember, about the people who pass through our lives and what bits of them cling to our consciousness." - Charles McGrath, NY Times book review, 10/18/11

Honestly, I couldn't say it better. While the central story in this novel is about a man who goes upstairs and locks himself in a room between dinner and dessert and refuses to leave, most of the book isn't about him at all. It focuses instead o...more
Beth
THERE

was once a man who, one night between the main course and the sweet at a dinner party, went upstairs and locked himself in one of the bedrooms of the house of the people who were giving the dinner party.

There was once a woman who had met this man thirty years before, had known him slightly for roughly two weeks, in the middle of a summer when they were both seventeen, and hadn't seen him since, though they'd occasionally, for a few years after, exchanged Christmas cards, that kind of thing.
...more
Mark Desrosiers
Mysterious dinner guess trudges upstairs, locks himself in a room, and uses his silence and media attention to hurl four deep abiding characters at us. The resulting novel (actually a quartet of novellas) is riveting and hilarious, puts us in sixteen safe places, yet begs for a serious scalp-clutching reread. Ali Smith drops riffs and clues whose scent wafts many pages later, and her punning and wordplay evoke another reality, one where a trickster gender-neutral wisdom kid seems to conduct (or...more
Dustin Crazy little brown owl
A fun book of Wit & Wonder.

Do you fear that friends or family may be the victims of spontaneous combustion? When indoors, do you fret that the walls and ceiling will likely collapse?
This is the first book I've read by Ali Smith and I have become an instant fan. I hear this isn't even her best work so I can only imagine what wonders her other volumes contain :-)

For only he who lives his life as a mystery is truly alive.
-Stefan Zweig

This book has no quotation marks for dialogue and I like it -...more
Elaine
Jul 02, 2011 Elaine rated it 2 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2011
I used to think that Ali Smith had enormous potential, but she's lost the thread -- penning books that are clever and cerebral, rather than using her verbal tics to get deeper (as HOtel World did). While this book has flashes of insight, the loggorrhea and punning (particularly the preternaturally brilliant and precious Brooke) tires more than it engrosses. It is also tiresome that the poor, the old, the gay and the black are all hyper-culturally and historically literate and sensitive and the m...more
Bekki
This reminds me of all of the uber-boring movies that get nominated for Oscars, and you find yourself wondering why on earth the movies you actually enjoyed watching don't ever receive any hype.....How this book made all the "must-read" and the "best books of the year" lists is beyond me. All hype and quite literally, no substance...no plot...no care for common grammatical niceties such as paragraphing, sentence structure, or quotation marks. The summary is quite misleading, and what you are hop...more
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500 Great Books B...: There But For The - Ali Smith - Fionnuala 7 16 Aug 09, 2014 02:28PM  
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68992
Ali Smith is a writer, born in 1962 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 Ph.D. 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 ho...more
More about Ali Smith...
The Accidental Hotel World Girl Meets Boy: The Myth of Iphis (Canongate Myths) The Whole Story and Other Stories Artful

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“What would happen if you did just shut a door and stop speaking? Hour after hour after hour of no words. Would you speak to yourself? Would words just stop being useful? Would you lose language altogether? Or would words mean more, would they start to mean in every direction, all somersault and assault, like a thuggery of fireworks? Would they proliferate, like untended plantlife? Would the inside of your head overgrow with every word that has ever come into it, every word that has ever silently taken seed or fallen dormant? Would your own silence make other things noisier? Would all the things you’d ever forgotten, all layered there inside you, come bouldering up and avalanche you?” 16 likes
“What shop did this book come from? she asked. Her father was looking worried at the cooker. He always got rice wrong. I don't know, Brooksie, he said, I don't remember. That was unimaginable, not remembering where a book has come from! and where it was bought from! That was part of the whole history, the whole point, of any book that you owned! And when you picked it up later in the house at home, you knew, you just knew by looking and having it in your hand, where it came from and where you got it and when and why you'd decided to buy it.” 9 likes
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