Ali Smith’s latest novel, There but for the, technically was released last year and was even featured in our 2011 favorites list. However, we regretted never posting an actual review. Since the final portion of the book takes place around the Easter holiday, we found it fitting to post a review now. We can do whatever we want, especially when it’s about a book this good.
There but for the is divided into four major sections, each labeled by one of the words in the book’s unique title. Within each section, there is a different perspective and story told by separate characters all linked to one another through one gentleman, who after excusing himself from a dinner party, has locked himself in someone’s guest bedroom, where he remains silently for days. The premise is reminiscent of the strange transcendence of social boundaries presented in her previous works, such as Accidentals. And the whimsical plot sets a welcoming environment for Smith’s sharp wit, and Smith greets the opportunity with candor and precise detail of what it is to be human.
Some of Smith’s greatest talents are pleasantly exemplified in There, such as presenting drama without excessive complication, giving a wink without becoming exhausting, and most importantly, telling a fun story with some actual substance. In other words, this novel is rich and intricate, though never tedious and always rewarding.