2005 – “The Accidental” by Ali Smith

Ali Smith is an author whose books I often see but who I had never read. The 60 Books from 60 Years challenge threw up her name when I was looking for possibilities so I read The Accidental. It was certainly an unusual book.

The book concentrates on a family of four. A mother Eve who is a writer and seems unable to write. A father Michael who is having an affair. A son Magnus who was involved in something at school which resulted in the death of a child by suicide. Astrid who is suffering from mental health problems and beginning to believe that she doesn’t exist. The family are having a holiday in a house in Norfolk for the summer which they greatly dislike. They are all very unhappy in their own way but each is isolated and doesn’t share their issues with others. Into this house comes Amber who claims that her car has broken down and is accepted by each of the family as having been brought into their midst by one of the others.

The book is in three parts with Amber, who is known as Alhambra in these sections, telling us about her life between the stories of the others. Each section contains a part for each of the four members of the family. As this is not a particularly long book this means that it moves quickly from one person to another telling each story and how Amber impacts each of them.

This book has a sort of fairytale feel to it – it certainly doesn’t feel very realistic. Amber seems like a fairy or an angel and each of the family accepts her very easily. She interferes with their lives in different ways for each of them and by the end of the book they have all moved on from their initial problems although possibly not in the way that you would expect.

This is a clever book but maybe one more to be admired than loved. I am not sure that Amber really sorted out the problems that each of them had in a way that improved their lives and they certainly all seemed just as isolated at the end of the book as at the beginning. Amber/Alhambra remained an enigma and I didn’t understand the constant references in her sections of the book to film and cinema unless we are to think of the whole book as being akin to a movie ?

I was reminded of JB Priestley’s play An Inspector Calls which has a similar device but which has a definite message for the viewer whilst I was unsure what exactly Ali Smith was trying to say in this book.

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