The Accidental by Ali Smith
rating: 4 out of 5
I found The Accidental to be a fun book to read. It lets the reader into the thoughts and minds of the 4 members of the Smart family. The Smarts have rented a summer house in Norfolk, England. A mysterious 30-ish woman calling herself Amber shows up and embeds herself in their lives. Each chapter alternates between the main characters. Astrid is an angsty 12 year old girl that is obsessed with her camera and spends most of her time filming the world and people around her. Her 17 year old brother, Magnus, mopes in his room and wallows in his own guilt over a classmate’s suicide. Their mother Eve is a writer who spends her days locked away in a shed with a typewriter trying to overcome writer’s block and write her new book. Eve’s husband Michael is a pretentious English professor who has regular flings with his female students. Each member of the Smart family is fairly isolated from the rest of the family. Not one of them knows what is truly going on in each other’s lives. Their family is very dysfunctional. Then the stranger, Amber, shows up at the summer cottage and shakes up each of their lives in different ways.
I really enjoyed Ali Smith’s writing style and how she switched that style around in each chapter to give different voices to each character. I can see how some people could get irked by the stream of conscious, the sentence fragments, the minimal punctuation and the lack of quotation marks. I rather enjoy offbeat narrative styles, so The Accidental was right up my alley.
Smith did a great job giving each of the Smarts a distinctive personality. My favorite were the chapters that focused on Astrid. Astrid spends most of the summer trying to capture “beginnings” and “ends” with her camcorder. At one point Astrid ponders what the end of the world will be like.
She is not afraid to imagine the end. There will be burning chipmunks and skunks hurtling through the air, glowing red in the dark like chipmunk-sized live coals, there will be skunk-firebombs and burning bits of that bridge from San Francisco or bits of film studios and that castle and the fake rides in Disneyland and the Empire State Building, glowing like huge embers, burtling thousands of miles up into the air and down again for miles, gaining speed and then smashing into the clockface of Big Ben, smashing into the House of Parliament, and Waterloo Bridge, and the Eye toppling on its side and all the people in it being thrown about inside the falling capsules like they’re on the inside of snowglobes, and the buildings all on fire, Tate Modern on fire, the art burning, the restaurant buring, the shop burning.
My least favorite chapters were the chapters told from Amber’s point of view. These were the only chapters told in the first person and they didn’t pull me in at all.
The book makes you ask: what in life is accidental and how well do we know the people in our lives?
The Accidental won the 2005 Whitbread Prize for Best Novel. It was also a 2005 Booker Prize Nominee and on the 2006 Shortlist for the Orange Prize.