by Ali Smith
I picked up this book after reading several reviews of Ali Smith’s work and was really looking forward to what I believed would be a captivating and amusing read. After all, it is an award-winning book from a multi-award-winning novelist.
From previous experience, I should have realised that award winning doesn’t always relate to an enjoyable read. From the very beginning I felt that I was not going to get on with this particular book. Whilst I am used to novels that switch focus between characters, even changing narrative style each time, but in “The Accidental” I found myself quickly losing empathy and interest in their individual stories.
The Smarts are the kind of dysfunctional family that would normally be found in a sitcom. And if this book were a comedy, I might have had more understanding and feeling for the story. And whilst there are undoubtedly moments of mild humour, for me it just doesn’t work. The only character that I felt any empathy for was young Astrid for whom the stranger, Amber, becomes a kind of mentor.
Amber’s unexpected arrival at the holiday cottage, and the way the family handle her arrival, I found difficult to swallow. Her influence stretches credulity and the more I read, the more cheated I felt. But not just by the story. I found the narrative to be difficult to follow at times, with much of it adding little, if anything, to the story itself.
For me this was a very disappointing book. I would say I am surprised it is an award winner, but it isn’t the first time I have been let down by critically acclaimed work. We all see different things in a novel – there is a saying that “no two people ever read the same book” and I am certainly not seeing what others do in this work.