The Accidental by Ali Smith

Penguin, 2007, 306p

The Accidental cover

Reasonably successful writer Eve Smart, her philandering lecturer husband Michael and their family are renting a house in Norfolk when they are intruded upon by a female stranger called Amber, who proceeds to inveigle her way into their home, befriend Eve’s twelve year old daughter Astrid and seduce her teenage son Magnus.

The novel is split into three sections, The Beginning, The Middle and The End in all of which each family member has a narrative strand. Astrid’s narration is initially irritating as she has a habit of using ie (or even id est) in circumstances which do not warrant it. Thankfully, she – or Smith as the author – grows out of this by The End. Each section is preceded, and hence followed, by a framing narrative in the first person from Amber’s viewpoint. (This does not illumine Amber’s behaviour overmuch.) The unravelling of the Smart family’s life under Amber’s influence is the meat of the book.

There are several infelicities. Not only are a couple of characters unsympathetic but the changes of viewpoint initially jar and for a long time the lack of justification in the text irritated me. The ragged right hand margin was too much of a distraction. By The End, though, the characters (apart from Amber) are more established and these concerns fade.

I noticed that the “cloud” on my Library Thing tags this novel as Scottish Fiction. (According to the book’s blurb Smith was born in Inverness in 1962 but now lives in Cambridge.) Fantastic Fiction also designates her as Scottish. There is nothing identifiably Scottish about The Accidental, though; not its setting, its themes, its dialogue nor its vocabulary. Mind you, the same could be said about Allan Massie’s The Sins of the Father or Andrew Crumey’s Music, In a Foreign Language both of which I read recently. Interestingly enough, Library Thing has those two books tagged as Scottish Literature.

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