Thursday, 30 June 2011

Book #54 There But For The by Ali Smith

There But For The

This book had two five star reviews on Amazon and has an interesting premise, that's why I chose it. Apparently it was also well reviewed by The Guardian. A couple in Greenwich hold a dinner party, one of their guests Mark brings a friend Miles, between the main course and the sweet, Miles locks himself in the spare room and refuses to leave, this lasts for days, then weeks then months.

The blurb of the book says :

Imagine you give a dinner party and 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.

So, this is the question, and the people this happens to are Genevieve and Eric Lee (Gen and Eric - ooo isn't THAT clever....? Sigh.) Gen and Eric and Miles are the people that are caught in this event, but we do not hear from them. The novel is split into four sections 'There' 'But', 'For' and 'The' and each section focuses on a different character.

'There' introduces Anna who is summoned to Greenwich by Genevieve after she finds Anna's email on Miles' phone, but Anna hasn't seen Miles in nearly twenty years and cannot do anything for Genevieve and cannot explain why he had her email address.

'But' gives us Mark Palmer, the man responsible for bringing Miles to the dinner party but he barely knows him either.

'For' gives us Mary, the most connection she has to Miles is that he still remembers the anniversary of her long dead daughter Jennifer, and visits her or sends a card once a year.

'The' ends the novel with Brooke and the perspective on events of a nine year old who attended the dinner party with parents.

The 'But' section told in the third person about Mark recounts in minute detail the events of the dinner party. Gen, Eric and their friends are revealed to be patronising, self important fools who invited Mark because he was homosexual (my, how interesting) and Brooke's parents because they were black (how disappointing that they were not from Africa, as was thought, but Harrogate) On previous occasions they had included a Jewish and a Palestinian family at one of their soirees. (so entertaining) The dinner party conversation, a long, or it felt long section basically amounts to reading about a group of insufferable people having insufferable conversations. If I had been attending this dinner party I would have made an excuse and left, and that's what I wanted to do with this book, leave. If this book is making any social comment it is about privileged white people looking down their noses at minorities and using them for a curiosity and entertainment value. The fact that the characters are so dislikeable makes it thoroughly unpleasant reading.

In addition, the rest of the book is quite random. We are introduced to elderly Mary in her hospital bed, and are told her story, and you spend the majority of her section wondering who she is, how she connects, and when you discover why she does, what the hell it has to do with anything. Mark's section is random too, a hodge-podge of his inner thoughts and rhymed conversations with his dead mother (Irritating) and then Brooke, the written equivalent of a precocious child talking at you incessantly for a very long time about nothing. Intensely irritating. Waffle.

The really frustrating part of this book is that the true story rests with the characters Gen, Eric and Miles and we hear NOTHING from them. The psychology of an event such as this, the effect of an intruder within your personal home, your space who won't leave, and the psychology of a  man who feels the need to do this, the inner workings of his mind whilst isolated in a spare room, are NOT EXPLORED WHATSOEVER. And that is not only what would make the book intriguing, but is also what it falsely purports to be about.  Even the introductory section with Anna involves much pointless waffle. 

Also, I refuse to believe that the Lee's would have allowed the situation to continue as interminably as they did for the sake of an expensive door. I refuse to believe that the Community Mental Health Services wouldn't have intervened very early on, or at least that the police wouldn't have taken more action than simply knocking on the door. The ending is also a waste of time, a TOTAL anticlimax.

Ridiculously exasperating this novel is without a doubt the worst I have read on this challenge. Pretentious and the worst case of Emperor's New Clothes I have EVER seen. 0/10

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