Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Booker Review: The Accidental, Ali Smith

Eve, the successful author of a series of contrived historical quasi-fiction books, is holidaying in Norfolk with her son Magnus, daughter Astrid and husband Michael. Eve is struggling with writer's block and a sense of futility; Astrid is teetering on the brink of puberty; Magnus is suicidal with guilt over the death of a classmate; and Michael is constantly distracted by his twin passions, literature and serial adultery. Into this fragile, fragmented household comes a young woman calling herself Amber. Nobody knows who she is, where she comes from, or what she wants, but she quickly develops very different relationships with each of the family members, ultimately proving to be the catalyst for much-needed change in each of their lives.

Ali Smith's Booker-nominated The Accidental is brash, experimental, unabashedly contemporary and genuinely affecting. Each character's story is related in a voice reflecting their personality and thought process, yet Smith eschew's a predictable first person narration in favour of an ironic, sympathetic, third person. It is a considerable technical feat, and one that allows a clever-yet-subtle interplay between the sections of the novel, and the characters themselves. The Accidental is also thematically rich. Set in 2003, it takes in the Iraq invasion, the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, internet porn, and so on, depicting a world in which everything is connected, yet simulateously fragmented.

One of the limitations of this read-and-blog thing I'm doing with the Booker longlist is that it doesn't allow much time for reflection (especially when I'm half asleep, as I am now). I doubt I am doing The Accidental justice with this quickie review, but suffice to say I am very impressed by it. James Meek's book aside, The Accidental is vastly superior to the longlist books I've read so far. Hopefully the Booker panel will reward Smith's efforts with a place on the shortlist.


Beth said...

Sounds like it will be interesting to compare The Accidental with Saturday - also set in 2003 and politically-engaged.

If we have Meek and A.Smith on the shortlist as well as my three faves so far, then Coetzee, Rushdie and Zadie are going to have to battle it out for the last spot! Tough competition...

Beth said...

Now I've read this novel, I can appreciate what a good job you've done reviewing it! Such a neat summary.

I still reckon her engagement with Abu Grahib etc was through the lens of culture (in that case, photography) rather than with the politics itself - just as important, but less confrontational in a novel.