Julie's Reviews > The Accidental

The Accidental by Ali Smith
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really liked it
bookshelves: best-of-2017, british-isles-theme-setting, contemporary-fiction, read-2017

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 quite 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 questionable 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 more 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 more Ali Smith.
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Reading Progress

January 13, 2017 – Started Reading
January 13, 2017 – Shelved
January 14, 2017 –
page 40
13.07% "Right. Well. I'm going to love this."
January 16, 2017 –
page 180
58.82% "Definitely going into best reads of 2017. Irresistible . . ."
January 17, 2017 – Shelved as: best-of-2017
January 17, 2017 – Shelved as: british-isles-theme-setting
January 17, 2017 – Shelved as: contemporary-fiction
January 17, 2017 – Shelved as: read-2017
January 17, 2017 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-3 of 3 (3 new)

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Michael A perfectly delightful review. I loved Astrid so much too that only her story carried me along. The radical presentation really wowed me, and so does your articulate response.

Julie Michael wrote: "A perfectly delightful review. I loved Astrid so much too that only her story carried me along. The radical presentation really wowed me, and so does your articulate response."

Michael, thank you so, so much.

message 3: by Shawn (new) - added it

Shawn Mooney (Shawn The Book Maniac) Lovely review. I read her latest, 'Autumn,' this month and it blew me away. This one sounds fantastic too!

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