TITLE: THERE BUT FOR THE
AUTHOR: ALI SMITH
PUBLISHER: HAMISH HAMILTON
GENRE: LITERARY FICTION / SATIRE
COVER TYPE: HARD BACK
BLURB FROM THE COVER
Imagine you give a dinner party and a friend of a friend of a friend brings a stranger to your house as his guest. He seems pleasant enough.
Imagine that this stranger goes upstairs halfway through the dinner party and locks himself in one of your bedrooms and won’t come out.
Imagine you can’t move him for days, weeks, months, if ever…
I was sorely disappointed with There But For The. I read Smith’s collection of stories Free Love & Other Stories years ago and loved it. I read her novel The Accidental and thought it was shit. It was just pages of meandering nonsense. I decided to give her full length fiction another shot. There But For The is much of the same as The Accidental. Smith is one author I’m going to cross off my list.
I think the title of the novel is great. I thought it was unusual. I presume Smith was trying to paraphrase the religious saying there but for the grace of god say aye. I like unusual titles.
I like the way Smith structured There But For The. The novel is split into four sections. THERE, BUT, FOR and THE. Each section focuses on someone who’s had some kind of contact with Miles, the man who locks himself in the bedroom. These include an old school friend, an elderly woman he visits one a year in a car home and the daughter of the family who own the house he’s imprisoned himself in.
There But For The isn’t about Miles so much as the chance encounters that mark out so many people’s lives. The fleeting moments that makes up the sum of our parts. I liked the way Smith chose to explore this.
Smith’s writing is pretty good at points and she’s spot on with some of her descriptions.
There But For The disintegrates into meandering nonsense after a promising start. Smith doesn’t give us any information or a hint of an explanation for Mile’s behaviour. Why did he lock himself in the bedroom? What exactly is his agenda?
I was confused by the ending. I didn’t really know if Miles was still locked in the bedroom or what the hell was going on. A good author needs to give a reader something to work with.
I found the whole premise preposterous after fifty or sixty pages. Why didn’t the owners of the house just break down the damn door? Or call the fucking police? I mean, seriously. I just didn’t buy the concept of the whole novel.
THE OPENING LINE
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 But For The has an interesting premise and Smith does a good of setting up an interesting situation. However, this quickly goes nowhere and renders the whole novel pointless. I was left with the impression Smith wrote this novel to be smug and show off how ‘writerly’ she can be. I just wasn’t impressed. I won’t read of Smith’s work again. I just don’t get it.