Winner of the Whitbread Award for best novel and a finalist for the Man Booker Prize, The Accidental is the virtuoso new novel by the singularly gifted Ali Smith. Jonathan Safran Foer has called her writing "thrilling." Jeanette Winterson has praised her for her "style, ideas, and punch." Here, in a novel at once profound, playful, and exhilaratingly inventive, she transfixes us with a portrait of a family unraveled by a mysterious visitor.
Amber--thirtysomething and barefoot--shows up at the door of the Norfolk cottage that the Smarts are renting for the summer. She talks her way in. She tells nothing but lies. She stays for dinner.
Eve Smart, the author of a best-selling series of biographical reconstructions, thinks Amber is a student with whom her husband, Michael, is sleeping. Michael, an English professor, knows only that her car broke down. Daughter Astrid, age twelve, thinks she's her mother's friend. Son Magnus, age seventeen, thinks she's an angel.
As Amber insinuates herself into the family, the questions of who she is and how she's come to be there drop away. Instead, dazzled by her seeming exoticism, the Smarts begin to examine the accidents of their lives through the searing lens of Amber's perceptions. When Eve finally banishes her from the cottage, Amber disappears from their sight, but not--they discover when they return home to London--from their profoundly altered lives.
Fearlessly intelligent and written with an irresistible blend of lyricism and whimsy, The Accidental is a tour de force of literary improvisation that explores the nature of truth, the role of chance, and the transformative power of storytelling.
From the Hardcover edition.
- Costa Book Awards
- Man Booker Prize for Fiction
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April 09, 2007
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Excerpt from The Accidental by Ali Smith
of things -- when is it exactly?
Astrid Smart wants to know. (Astrid Smart. Astrid Berenski. Astrid Smart. Astrid Berenski.) 5.04 a.m. on the substandard clock radio. Because why do people always say the day starts now? Really it starts in the middle of the night at a fraction of a second past midnight. But it's not supposed to have begun until the dawn, really the dark is still last night and it isn't morning till the light, though actually it was morning as soon as it was even a fraction of a second past twelve i.e. that experiment where you divide something down and down like the distance between the ground and a ball that's been bounced on it so that it can be proved, Magnus says, that the ball never actually touches the ground. Which is junk because of course it touches the ground, otherwise how would it bounce, it wouldn't have anything to bounce off, but it can actually be proved by science that it doesn't.
Astrid is taping dawns. There is nothing else to do here. The village is a dump. Post office, vandalized Indian restaurant, chip shop, little shop place that's never open, place for ducks to cross the road. Ducks actually have their own roadsign! There is a sofa warehouse called Sofa So Good. It is dismal. There is a church. The church has its own roadsign too. Nothing happens here except a church and some ducks, and this house is an ultimate dump. It is substandard. Nothing is going to happen here all substandard summer.
She now has nine dawns one after the other on the mini dv tape in her Sony digital. Thursday 10 July 2003, Friday II July 2003, Saturday 12, Sunday 13, Monday 14, Tuesday 15, Wednesday 16, Thursday 17 and today Friday 18. But it is hard to know what moment exactly dawn is. All there is when you look at it on the camera screen is the view of outside getting more visible. So does this mean that the beginning is something to do with being able to see? That the day begins as soon as you wake up and open your eyes? So when Magnus finally wakes up in the afternoon and they can hear him moving about in the room that's his in this dump of a substandard house, does that mean the day is still beginning? Is the beginning different for everyone? Or do beginnings just keep stretching on forwards and forwards all day? Or maybe it is back and back they stretch. Because every time you open your eyes there was a time before that when you closed them then a different time before that when you opened them, all the way back, through all the sleeping and the waking and the ordinary things like blinking, to the first time you ever open your eyes, which is probably round about the moment you are born.
Astrid kicks her trainers off on to the floor. She slides back across the horrible bed. Or possibly the beginning is even further back than that, when you are in the womb or whatever it's called. Possibly the real beginning is when you are just forming into a person and for the first time the soft stuff that makes your eyes is actually made, formed, inside the hard stuff that becomes your head i.e. your skull.
She fingers the curve of bone above her left eye. Eyes fit the space they are in, exactly like they were made for each other, the space and the eye. Like the play she saw with the man in it whose eyes were gouged out, the people on the stage turned him so the audience couldn't see, then they gouged out his eyes then whirled the chair round and he had his hands up at his face and he took them away, his hands were full of red stuff, it was all round his eye sockets. It was insane. It was jelly or something similar. It was his daughters who did it or his sons. It was one of Michael's tragedies. It was quite good though. Yes, exactly, because at a theatre the curtain goes up and you know it's the beginning because, obviously, the curtain's gone up.