There But For The by Ali Smith
Set in the present day in the posh London neighborhood of Greenwich, There But For The is the story of a guest at a fancy dinner party who abruptly locks himself in an upstairs bedroom and refuses to leave, leaving the rest of the guests to deal with the somewhat surreal situation. The novel was long-listed for the 2012 Orange Prize.
Reviewer: Lucy Beresford
"Smith’s prose is not just supple, it’s acrobatic: one minute providing crisp realism...the next a hypnotic stream-of-consciousness. Smith can make anything happen, which is why she is one of our most exciting writers today....The pleasure is that Smith’s dizzying wordplay makes the real and surreal equally stimulating."
Reviewer: Joan Frank
"Smith is an agile, mischievous writer who (like Brooke) adores zipping in and out of literal and figurative meanings, sprinkling puns like fairy dust....The rich texture of Smith's four voices is seasoned with marvelous observations"
Reviewer: Rowan Kaiser
"There But For The’s premise is slight, even silly, but in Ali Smith’s masterful hands, it rapidly gains momentum, turning a simple tale into something ambitious but grounded."
Reviewer: Heller McAlpin
"Smith has interwoven multiple points of view before, but this time her shifts in perspective are just disorienting enough to keep readers on their toes....“There but for the” packs an emotional wallop in part because it engages us to read more actively."
Reviewer: Charles McGrath
"“There but for the” is quirky, intricately put together, sometimes overly clever but nevertheless airborne for some considerable stretches....Ms. Smith is brilliant at leaving things out and forcing the reader to make connections, so that, for example, the remaining words of the title phrase (“grace of God go I”) go without saying."
Reviewer: Sylvia Brownrigg
"She is not a writer to seize on if linearity and a clear plotline are what you’re after. On the other hand, if you enjoy surprising, often comic insights into contemporary life, she’s someone to relish."
Reviewer: Sam Sacks
"the novel asks you to swallow the implausible notion that Miles wouldn't be forcibly removed from the house. But the reward for your complicity is a delightfully unclassifiable reading experience."
Reviewer: Nicholas Lezard
"In terms of technique, Smith is a master of what one reviewer has felicitously called "dropped stitches", deliberate gaps in the story, little scootings-off to the side, connections that don't quite connect and apparent non-connections that do."
Reviewer: Lucy Daniel
"This is a novel deliberately informed by song (and the stories around songs), culturally anchored in our ultra-referential times....The impetus to read on comes from the novel’s clever mimicry of the way we get swept along on stray thoughts, rather than what happens"
Reviewer: Caroline Adderson
"Smith is a deeply moral writer who can’t always resist moralizing, but the truth is the job of revealing truth is better done with rounded, surprising characters...and not these wearying stereotypes....But everything else I expect from Ali Smith, and love, is here: the helium quality of her prose, its playful grab-bagginess,...how she manages to write so lightly about subjects that are by no means trivial"
Reviewer: Sarah Churchwell
"As with most of Ali Smith's books, the pleasures here are in the small moments, the interest she takes in the tiniest words...and marginal characters. The "central" character, Miles, remains an enigma, and almost nothing happens – a deliberate choice to frustrate the reader's expectations, and one which many readers will find quite frustrating."
Reviewer: Yvonne Zipp
"“There but for the” isn't for every reader. Not much happens, by design, and Miles himself remains practically invisible behind the locked door. But for a reader who delights in word play,...and the music of Gershwin, Smith offers an unpredictable wit and plenty of insights."
Reviewer: Lionel Shriver
"It’s simple: you’ve started a story about a man who locks himself in a guest room for months, so get to it. We want to know what happens. But There But For The doesn’t so much end as evaporate....Nevertheless, the prose is playful, intelligent and witty."