There but for the

Ali Smith

There but for the

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. This is what Miles does, in a chichi house in the historic borough of Greenwich, in the year 2009–10, in There but for the. Who is Miles, then? And what does it mean, exactly, to live with other people? 3.5 out of 5 based on 12 reviews
There but for the

Omniscore:

Classification Fiction
Genre Short Stories
Format Hardcover
Pages 384
RRP £16.99
Date of Publication June 2011
ISBN 978-0241143407
Publisher Hamish Hamilton
 

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. This is what Miles does, in a chichi house in the historic borough of Greenwich, in the year 2009–10, in There but for the. Who is Miles, then? And what does it mean, exactly, to live with other people?

Reviews

The Literary Review

Tim Martin

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 an unpretentious sincerity about human matters ... This is a novel of serious ambitions that remains huge fun to read.

01/07/2011

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The Guardian

Nicholas Lezard

In terms of technique, Smith is a master of what one reviewer has felicitously called "dropped stitches", deliberate gaps in the story, little scootings-off to the side, connections that don't quite connect and apparent non-connections that do. This is great, and which is why I am pleased she is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. But the dinner party … would anyone, however stupid, ask, in 2010, an obviously educated black couple with Yorkshire accents if they'd ever seen any tigers "where [they] came from"? Dinner parties are awful, I know that, and you can find some prize creeps at them, but this strains credulity somewhat.

20/07/2012

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The Sunday Telegraph

Lucy Daniel

The novel is arranged in four sections, “there”, “but”, “for” and “the”. That ludic spirit extends to the fabric of the story: figures of speech and verbal tics, and wordplay that startles in the way that poetry does, attentive to the minute ways words fall against each other.

24/05/2011

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The Guardian

Alex Clark

At first glance, it might seem that Smith simply has a fondness for disrupting bourgeois set-ups and for sending up middle-class pieties and predilections; but while that's clearly part of her project, there is an awful lot more going on .... Smith is repeatedly drawn to explorations of language games ... a novel that is playful, humorous, serious, profoundly clever and profoundly affecting.

01/06/2011

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The Evening Standard

Melanie McGrath

This is a novel whose pleasures are to be had not so much in narrative as in the process of reading itself. Interactive and wilfully democratic, There But For The is an uncompromising and original 21st-century novel. There's no ego here, just an invitation to join in the fun. I take my hat off to Ali Smith. Her writing lifts the soul.

02/06/2011

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The Daily Express

Emma Lee-Potter

Inventive, profound, acutely observant, yet hugely readable.

27/05/2011

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The Daily Telegraph

Lucy Beresford

Smith’s prose is not just supple, it’s acrobatic: one minute providing crisp realism — cocky teenagers, unspoken homophobia, university bureaucracy — the next a hypnotic stream-of-consciousness. Smith can make anything happen, which is why she is one of our most exciting writers today.

31/05/2011

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The Observer

Sarah Churchwell

… a playfully serious, or seriously playful, novel full of wit and pleasure, with some premeditated frustrations thrown in for good measure … If some of the set-pieces are less successful than others — the novel's central dinner party descends from burlesque into caricature, as the guests became increasingly loathsome — there are some wonderful disquisitions on our cultural idiosyncrasies.

05/06/2011

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The Financial Times

Lionel Shriver

Ali Smith spins out this narrow, potentially confining concept into a winsome, compelling read – that is, until the book’s last third, at which point you wonder if maybe it should have been a short story after all ... Nevertheless, the prose is playful, intelligent and witty.

27/05/2011

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The Sunday Times

Adam Lively

There is nothing wrong with a narrative that spins off in different directions: anything that challenges the well-trimmed-lawn approach to novelistic form is to be welcomed. But the material must be strong, and too much of it here feels like padding. The interminable dinner-party scene is like numerous other interminable dinner-party scenes in other novels, with a bunch of stereotypes discussing advertising, the internet, CCTV, modern art, etc in terms straight from the Daily Mail or The Guardian.

05/06/2011

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The Spectator

Simon Baker

There But For The is, overall, as baffling as Miles’s actions. It is funny and clever, but it misses the mark as often as it hits it. It gives a good deal of pleasure, but leaves you with a question that may also have plagued Miles during his endless vigil: what is it all about?

09/07/2011

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The London Review of Books

Theo Tait

Very typical of Smith: the repetitive, slightly unidiomatic syntax; the other-worldly perspective; an adolescent focus on the Big Picture while the adults rage about material possessions … the effect is fairly dismal.

26/01/2012

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