Ali Smith is an author I’ve read about – and it always seems that the reviews either a) praise her b) condone her so I was quite pleased to find out that ‘The Accidental’ made the the 1001 list. I’m even more pleased at the fact that I am part of the former category as well. Yes, I’m now a fan.
The Smart family are dysfunctional. Astrid only views life through her handheld camera, her brother Magnus is suicidal, the half father, lecturer, Michael sleeps with his students and the mother, Eve is a best-selling author who superficial in all ways. Each chapter is about these protagonists and is told through their eyes.
That is until Amber walks into their life.
Slowly Amber changes each family member in a positive way but this is no cliched Benny and Joon story. Amber usually changes people by antagonising them (except for Magnus) and exposing their true selves. Towards the end Astrid is more aware of life, Magnus is filled with hope, Michael sees the emptiness of his life and Eve begins to be more genuine. There’s also the subplot about the history of cinema, this is presumably Amber’s personal story.
On screen this looks like some soap opera but in Smith’s hands it is anything but. Her use of language is dazzling as puns and vivid imagery are lightly sprinkled on each page and her way of squeezing out philosophical thoughts and ideas as if they were throwaway is another masterful stroke. Most of all the character of the free thinking Amber is memorable creation and her thoughts and words, no matter how blunt and rough, leave an impression. It wouldn’t be right to say that she is a Holden Caufield clone but they both have the same type of world-vision.
The Accidental is one of those books that last in the memory for ages. Even as I type certain inflections and sentences are spinning round my head. Despite it’s artiness (one chapter is composed of poems) it is extremely accessible and Smith makes sure that the reader is not left in the dark as each individual chapter is closley linked with the last. I see The Accidental as a forerunner for the shape of novels to come. Something with a complicated facade and yet can be accepted by all.