By January 18, 2012 0 Comments Read More →

There but for the

Ali Smith’s There but for the is a novel begging for discussion. For one, it features a truly peculiar predicament and an elusive main character.

It starts with a dinner party, rather ordinary if snootish dinner party in Greenwich, a suburb of London which also hosts a famous observatory and the site of Greenwich Mean Time. A young man, Miles Garth, arrives with Mark, an older gay man, a friend of the hosts. Mark doesn’t know Miles all that well and everyone at the dinner party assumes Miles is Mark’s new boyfriend. Miles is charming and affable, so it is all the more alarming when he leaves the dinner table to use the bathroom and never returns. The entire dinner party later learns that Miles has locked himself into the guest bedroom of the host’s house and has no intention of leaving.

Smith divides the book into four sections, comprising the four words in the title. Each chapter offers another vantage from which to view this man, Miles, albeit all from a distance. Glimpses of Mark over the years from those who only know him tangentially tease the reader and only uncover more questions and uncertainty. What drove this seemingly nice young man to hole up in a stranger’s house, becoming an odd kind of minor celebrity? What becomes of a person when no one really seems to know them? Did he avoid connection in his life, or did it elude him? All of these questions and more accumulate.

There but for the is a novel in stories much like Tom Rachman’s The Imperfectionists and Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad. Like Rachman and Egan, Smith knows how to write wonderful characterizations and present unique points of view while telling a compelling story.



About the Author:

Misha Stone is a readers' advisory librarian with The Seattle Public Library. Follow her on Twitter at @ahsimlibrarian.

Post a Comment