“…fiction has the unique power of revealing something true.”
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.
There is something about Ali Smith’s writing that excites and hypnotizes. I have always seen her books around before and I’m happy I picked The Accidental as my first Ali Smith. I love it 🤎 The novel features the Smart’s: a seemingly typical suburban family. One dull summer, a strange but rather charming girl named Amber appears out of nowhere and talks her way into their lives. Through a humorous and snarky narrative, we are shown exactly how disconnected the Smart’s are from each other, as Amber almost effortlessly takes her place within the family.
Throughout the novel I felt a certain kind of longing that exudes from each of the characters. Also the kind of loneliness you feel when you just know you don’t belong anywhere and no one understands you, not even your own family. It poses the questions–how much of the sum of our family are we, and how much of us is our individual self? What do you want and what is your definition of want? Sometimes it takes a stranger for families to begin to know their true selves.
“Everybody at this table is in broken pieces which won’t go together, pieces which are nothing to do with each other..”
Also notable is seeing the privileged family’s implicit bias towards the people around them, adding to other factors that reveal each character may not be as nice and perfect as they think they are. If the side effects of privilege means being fake, then the Smart family is the epitome of the disorder.
I certainly did not expect the ending, and up till now I still don’t know what to think of it. Sometimes when I think about the family I want to laugh at what happened and say “well, that’s karma for you” and sometimes I want to hug each and every one of them and say “stop faking it, you’re not okay but you can be” and I just love that kind of reading experience, when I feel like I really got to know people outside my own space. I know I will still be thinking about them, and will not forget them for a long time. 🤎
Trigger warnings: themes include suicide, adultery, suggested sexual relations with a minor (not entirely sure of this one but there are teacher/student affairs mentioned)
“Deeply exciting, though, cliché was, as a concept. It was truth misted by overexpression, wasn’t it, like a structure seen in a fog, something waiting to be re-felt, re-seen. Something dainty fumbled at through thick gloves. Cliché was true, obviously, which was why it had become cliché in the first place; so true that cliché actually protected you from its own truth by being what it was, nothing but cliché.”
About the Author
Ali Smith is a writer, born in Inverness, Scotland, to working-class parents. She was raised in a council house in Inverness and now lives in Cambridge. She studied at Aberdeen, and then at Cambridge, for a Ph.D. that was never finished. In a 2004 interview with writing magazine Mslexia, she talked briefly about the difficulty of becoming ill with chronic fatigue syndrome for a year and how it forced her to give up her job as a lecturer at University of Strathclyde to focus on what she really wanted to do: writing. She has been with her partner Sarah Wood for 17 years and dedicates all her books to her.
The Accidental by Ali Smith
Paperback, 306 pages
Published April 10th 2007 by Anchor (first published May 26th 2005)
ISBN1400032180 (ISBN13: 9781400032181)
Characters: Astrid Smart, Magnus Smart, Eve Smart, Michael Smart, Amber
Setting: Norfolk, England
Literary Awards: Booker Prize Nominee (2005), Orange Prize Nominee for Fiction Shortlist (2006), James Tait Black Memorial Prize Nominee for Fiction (2005), Whitbread Award for Novel (2005), The Rooster — The Morning News Tournament of Books (2006)