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The Accidental (moved from 21st Century Fiction)


Beejay
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The Reading Group I belong to recently tackled The Accidental by Ali Smith after reading rave reviews from the international press.

It is the only book that came close to vying with Paul Theroux's Millroy the Magician for the title of Most Disliked Book.

 

We are a diverse group of women, eclectic in our choice of books.

Did we have our minds switched off and fail to grasp the signs of greatness so clear to the critics - including the Judges of the Whitbread Novel Prize 2005. Or was this a case of reviewer's hype and the Emperor's New Clothes?

 

Has any member of this BGO read either of them? Views from other readers would be welcome.

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The Reading Group I belong to recently tackled The Accidental by Ali Smith after reading rave reviews from the international press.

It is the only book that came close to vying with Paul Theroux's Millroy the Magician for the title of Most Disliked Book.

Heehee! Why do I take such pleasure in other people's dislike of this book? It can't say anything nice about me... I think it's because of the rave reviews and blanket coverage, so many people parted from their hard earned pennies only to have their high hopes dashed. (I recently read a different Theroux and that was dreadful too.)

 

The threads under the Book Group section of the forum might inspire you to vent your spleen Beejay. It's a bit haphazard in there at the moment, due to a recent system crash upsetting things, but have a dig around.

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Beejay,

Our reading of The Accidental as part of the BGO Book group resulted in three threads, which are currently mixed up with other bookgroup threads. Eventually, when we have finished sorting out the chaos resulting from our crash earlier this month they will be collected together in one sub-forum.

 

At present you can find them here

here

and here

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I kept my comments short because I was sure I had previously posted something more detailed about this under my former, pre-crash name. Thanks to megustaleer I found them and here they are:-

 

17th November 2006 06:23 PM

 

I have just come across this thread - with only a few pages to go before The Accidental will be the Book of the Month at the next meeting of our local Book Group. I have really struggled with it and almost abandoned it after only a few pages, but remembered it was my turn to lead the discussion.

Post-modern or a contemporary version of our old allegorical friend - the uninvited guest? Haven't we met Michael before - in Disgrace and elsewhere?

As for "innovative, creative writing" I thought stream of consciousness had been around for a very long time ! Sexy, erotic or pornographic - the edges certainly blur in this book.

Many allusions resonate with themes from films of the 1960's - cf. confusion between illusion/reality in Blow Up (Losey 1966); or:- young woman, not as innocent as she seems, enters, uninvited, the home of a University lecturer undergoing mid-life crisis -Accident (Losey 1967). Other example lurk in the text.

The book seems to be about people seeing/hearing or not seeing/hearing only what they choose ; it portrays a society distracted from the reality of the times they live in by random sex , the pursuit of success and "happiness". References to the grim realities of the world they/we live in, like war, the ill-treatment and murder of children may be an attempt to counter balance the prevailing denial and detachment of people from real life, from politics. But readers are free to draw their own conclusions. Although I have not quite finished the book I know I have not enjoyed reading it and am staggered by the hyperbole of the Critics. A case of Emperors New Clothes to my mind!

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Rescued Discussion - sits here as well as anywhere else!

 

Hazel 22nd May 2006 09:39 AM

 

The Observer reviewed this book at the weekend, and said that "Ali Smith's entrancing novel thoroughly deserved its place on the most recent Booker shortlist, and will be admired - and devoured - by any reader sensible enough to pick it up."

 

Now, (deep breath) I think we can say that we are all sensible - yet I dont think any of us who actually read this enjoyed it. Are we missing something? I did not admire it at all and I certainly didn't devour it. Plodded through.

 

Mungus 22nd May 2006 09:42 AM

Originally Posted by Hazel

The Observer reviewed this book at the weekend, and said that "Ali Smith's entrancing novel thoroughly deserved its place on the most recent Booker shortlist, and will be admired - and devoured - by any reader sensible enough to pick it up."

 

:D I saw this and was going to post it up for a laugh too! She must have friends in high places is all I can think. Her previous novel Hotel World received similar adulation and I couldn't get past the first few pages.

Hazel 22nd May 2006 09:44 AM

 

I think someone once praised this author then all the other critics don't want to be seen as 'less bookish' so they all follow suit without actually agreeing. No one wants to be the first to stand up and say "rubbish" lest they be cast asunder from the London literati parties.

 

Momo 22nd May 2006 10:45 AM

 

Originally Posted by Hazel

I think someone once praised this author then all the other critics don't want to be seen as 'less bookish' so they all follow suit without actually agreeing. No one wants to be the first to stand up and say "rubbish" lest they be cast asunder from the London literati parties.

I get that feeling very often. The first one probably didn't want to admit that he/she didn't understand the novel and therefore praised it and then it went on and on like that ... :D

 

katrina 22nd May 2006 07:39 PM

 

If one or two of us didn't like it then fine, but we can't all be missing the point surely! The book was badly written, and the plot seemed pretty pointless - nothing really happened, the characters were unbelieveable and unlikeable. Maybe we she send all of our postings on this book to one of these critics just to show we certainly didn't 'devour' it

 

Momo 22nd May 2006 10:54 PM

Originally Posted by katrina

If one or two of us didn't like it then fine, but we can't all be missing the point surely!

 

You're right, but contrary to those critics we don't earn our money with it and we can admit if we didn't understand a book or didn't get a great meaning out of it. ;)

 

Originally Posted by katrina

Maybe we she send all of our postings on this book to one of these critics just to show we certainly didn't 'devour' it

 

That would be a good idea. But would they listen?

 

Hazel 23rd May 2006 08:41 AM

 

Originally Posted by Momo

You're right, but contrary to those critics we don't earn our money with it and we can admit if we didn't understand a book or didn't get a great meaning out of it.

 

I don't think that anyone of us failed to understand or make meaning from the book - here was nothing to understand. Unless you count a person entering a dysfunctional family, making no difference, and leaving again.

 

Momo 23rd May 2006 10:27 PM

 

Originally Posted by Hazel

I don't think that anyone of us failed to understand or make meaning from the book - here was nothing to understand. Unless you count a person entering a dysfunctional family, making no difference, and leaving again.

 

You're right, I should have said it differently. Those critics think they always have to understand a book and explain it. And if they can't, they will just say it's a great book and praise it. Whereas we don't do that. If a book is stupid, we'll say it, even if someone else thinks we just didn't get it.

 

Flingo 27th May 2006 11:21 PM

 

Originally Posted by Momo

critics think they always have to understand a book and explain it. And if they can't, they will just say it's a great book and praise it.

 

Throughout my reading I kept thinking - "this book is critically acclaimed, thats why I don't understand it"!!! It's like any Oscar winning film! And every Man Booker winner I have read! Not sure why this didn't win - it had all the characteristics - I dread to think what the winner is like, I won't be touching that with a barge pole!

 

katrina 28th May 2006 12:28 PM

 

In the Penguin Reading group recommendations I found this quote about The Accidental from a reading group "This would appeal to anyone who enjoys good language, great characters amd a clever style"

 

I'm starting to think I read a completely different book!

Hazel 28th May 2006 04:10 PM

Originally Posted by katrina

In the Penguin Reading group recommendations I found this quote about The Accidental from a reading group "This would appeal to anyone who enjoys good language, great characters amd a clever style"

 

I'm starting to think I read a completely different book!

 

I am starting to think us BGOers live in a parallel universe where good sense rules...

 

megustaleer 28th May 2006 06:03 PM

Originally Posted by katrina

In the Penguin Reading group recommendations I found this quote about The Accidental from a reading group "This would appeal to anyone who enjoys good language, great characters and a clever style"

 

I notice that it says nothing about appealing to someone who enjoys 'a good story'!

 

"Good language'? Well, I've sold my copy, so can't take a second look, but inasmuch as the personalities of the characters are clearly portrayed through their use of language, I guess that's right.

 

'Great characters'? Hmm, what does that mean? 'Great' in the sense of being interesting? Charismatic? People you'd want to spend time with? I think not!

'Great' in the sense of unforgettable literary individuals , well. no I don't think so, but only time will tell.

 

'Clever style', Oh yes, but more a kind of 'clever-clever' style that shouts 'Look at me, see how cleverly I am presenting this pointless story"

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  • 2 weeks later...

I must check out the other threads on this, but i have to say I absolutely adored the Accidental. I just finished it last week. Struggled with Astrid's voice in chapter one, but it all fell into place once i worked out what was going on. Magnus' second chapter almost had me in tears, and it kept getting better and better. So many delightful touches with language, quirky insights into life, and novel writing with absolutely no rules - it was liberating to read. i was expecting a major twist, and even after it ended, i was left with a tiny doubt about Amber's actual existence. Ill have to read it again, but basically due to the references to Alhambra, and Granada earlier in the novel. Was it Eve who mentioned travelling to Granada, as it was Amber who mentioned it at the end. Then there was the last sentence... everything about it moved me. Particularly loved Amber's sections where she lists the iconic dramas from cinema throughout her life, and also the section on the cinema histories, relating to her conception. It was thrilling! I really cant agree with the assertion that it was badly written. I loved the way she wrote, and it was as if she was speaking to your subconscience in a way. Certainly quite esoteric, and if you like things linear and spelled out, you probably wont like this book. I prefer it if there is doubt to interpretation.

 

My sister gave me this book as she knows i like 'weird' novels...she didnt like it, it has to be said!

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Welcome to BGO, soundsofibis.

You are a bit of a lone voice crying in the wilderness as far as this thread goes, but now you have stuck your head above the parapet (to mix my metaphors) other dissenting souls may find the courage to join you.

 

I look forward to reading your comments on other books discussed here.

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Welcome, soundsofibis,

this is the great thing about an online bookgroup. You will always find someone who liked a book everyone else seems to dislike. Sometimes that changes your mind and gets you closer to the book. However, I don't think you'll have much luck with those of us who read it at the time. Meg might be right, though. I'm sure there are a few more who liked it.

Anyway, hope to see more of you. Have fun!

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Thanks for the welcome megustaleer & momo! I felt the need to defend it, but thats the beauty you are correct, that we can all have different views which can maybe have a small influence on others reading the posts!

 

Off topic: Incidentally, she has recently collaborated on the 'Ballads of the Book' album - a project where Scottish writers wrote poetry and Scottish bands wrote music and composed original music to go with it. Ali Smith did a track with the Trashcan Sinatra's, a band from my home town, a couple of the members im good friends with, so im very very excited to get this album - im going to buy it tomorrow.. As well as this it features so many other brilliant Scottish poets and musicians, if your Scottish you should defo check it out, if not - im sure its worth a go, especially if you like folk music.

 

Peace IB~)

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  • 5 months later...

i know this is an old thread but i feel i have to reply & tell you that youre not alone soundsofibis :-) i really enjoyed the accidental - one reason is the way you see each of the characters from each others point of view. i think it works really well. and she has a really idiosyncratic writing style. i can't decide whether i love her kooky, real characters or her writing style more. ok, i admit it. im a big fan :-) maybe some of you people could give her first novel 'like', or 'other stories and other stories' a go?! :)

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I've just finished The Accidental and my first reaction has been to log on here 'for help' - I couldn't make any sense of it either; I didn't like the characters, was waiting for a plot to emerge (which never happened) and simply couldn't see the point. But, as has already been commented upon, many times, it seems to have had rave reviews. Thanks to everyone who has contributed so far; it's re-assuring to see I'm not the only one totally bewildered.

 

However, it's good to see there are some people who enjoyed it too. I normally like books that are a bit off the wall - but this one was some distance from the wall!

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  • 2 months later...

I loved the Accidental too - and although I have met Ali Smith (she is lovely) I am not a friend. I did have the advantage, though, of hearing Smith read the first chapter (Astrid's voice) aloud, so that gave me a real feel for the tempo and tone. I suspect I might have been put off without this head start.

 

It's ages since I read the book, so much of the detail has faded, but I thought the concept of Astrid identifying a need in each of the family - and then filling it - worked very well. By addressing needs - and then by obtaining or creating secrets, she was able to wrap them all around her little finger. The clever bit, though, was in having the four voices - four slightly unreliable narrators - to bring this into relief.

You watched as Astrid, the angel from Heaven - started to look a bit dodgy - and then to become the Hound from Hell.

There were also some moments of great comic relief - the plucking razor blades from the rack in the supermarket springs to mind.

 

The four narrators, whilst being the great creation of the novel, was also it's Achilles heel. In the final rotation of voices, the cat had to be let out of the bag during the first voice. The moment of revelation then had to be repeated three times, which did start to become tiresome. And the final chapter - the mother - stretched credulity just a bit too far right at the end.

 

But all in all, I thought it was a lively, funny and inventive read that marks Ali Smith as one of our leading writers, fir to walk on the world stage.

 

*****

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I thought I'd reveiwed this book elsewhere after reading it last year, but apparently not. (If so, I can't find it!) I have to add my vote to the positive readings of The Accidental - I thought that telling and retelling sections of the narrative through four different perspectives was risky and effective, and that Ali Smith was able to conjure a new and distinctive voice for every character very well. I particularly enjoyed the way the character of Astrid (who is the guest, the blow in, the accidental) is viewed and reviewed by each of the family members.

 

One description I recall particularly vividly is through the eyes of the lecherous father, Michael, who sees in Astrid similarities to the dishevilled flower-strewn girl in Botticelli's Spring. Perhaps because those paintings are so well-known, that description seems to evoke not only Astrid's appearance, but also Michael's opinion of her - and also hints that there might be some artifice involved in her nature. The way you can read the description in multiple ways (for what it says, for what it reveals, for what it suggests) is typical of Smith's lucid prose style and I found the whole book really quite brilliant.

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It's ages since I read the book, so much of the detail has faded, but I thought the concept of Astrid identifying a need in each of the family - and then filling it - worked very well...The clever bit, though, was in having the four voices - four slightly unreliable narrators - to bring this into relief.
I thought that telling and retelling sections of the narrative through four different perspectives was risky and effective, and that Ali Smith was able to conjure a new and distinctive voice for every character very well...The way you can read the description in multiple ways (for what it says, for what it reveals, for what it suggests) is typical of Smith's lucid prose style and I found the whole book really quite brilliant.
I too am a fan of this book. I agree that the use of language is what makes this a great book rather than the story although I was invovled in then story and with all of the characters. I didn't have a problem with the final section with the mother either, in fact I quite liked that!
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  • 2 months later...

I have just finished this book. I see from previous posts that there are mixed views and I almost gave up after two chapters. I am glad I persevered though. While it won't ever be one of my "desert island" reads, it did deliver more than I initially thought.

 

It took me a while to get to grips with the four perspectives (all flawed!) and I agree with someone else in this thread that I'm not entirely sure whether Amber existed in reality, but I did enjoy the way the story played out and felt that the four characters got what was coming to them (not necessarily in a nasty way).

 

Zebra

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