There but for the by Ali Smith - review by Tim Martin

Tim Martin

Staying the Course

There but for the

By

Hamish Hamilton 357pp £16.99 order from our bookshop
 

In Ali Smith’s eccentric, adventurous and intoxicating fiction, the everyday is rarely ordinary. Her new novel begins with a simple premise: in the middle of a dinner party, one of the guests, a man called Miles, goes upstairs to his hosts’ spare bedroom. He locks the door and refuses to come out. ‘Fine for water but will need food soon,’ says the note he pushes under the door. ‘Vegetarian, as you know. Thank you for your patience.’ Months pass, journalists arrive, crowds assemble, and the man in the room, who persistently refuses laptops, mobile phones and the chance to explain himself, becomes a popular cause célèbre.

Around this kernel Smith constructs a modern morality comedy, told through the perspectives of several characters whose lives intersect with Miles’s. Like all her work, this novel is an appealing combination of modesty and sensation, where quietly dazzling effects of style and plotting combine with mordant satire and

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