Girl Meets Boy by Ali Smith

Canongate, 2007, 164 p.

Not borrowed from a threatened library but returned to one of them.

 Girl Meets Boy cover

This is part of Canongate’s Myths series and is a retelling of one of Ovid’s Metamorphoses wherein Iphis (a name used for both sexes) was born a girl but on the gods’ advice is brought up by her mother as a boy as her father said they couldn’t afford a girl. As a young adult Iphis falls in love with and is set to marry Ianthe but has to appeal to the gods to resolve the dilemma of how to do this as a girl.

Told in five chapters titled “I,” “You,” “Us,” “Them,” and “All Together Now” Smith adapts this to a story of Anthea falling for Robin Goodman whom at first sight she thought, “He was the most beautiful boy I had ever seen,” rapidly amending this to, “She was the most beautiful boy I had ever seen.”

Mixed in with this is the story of Anthea’s sister, Imogen – at first shocked by Anthea’s relationship (Oh my god my sister is A GAY,) but later reconciled to it – and both their experiences of working for a rapacious company called Pure which sells bottled water. Office politics and the vacuousness of “creative” meetings are well skewered.

Many of the scenes take place in Inverness, Smith’s birthplace, but the book’s concerns are never parochial. Smith works in an account of not only – in Imogen’s trip down south – of the Englishness of England but of the many ways in which women are disadvantaged in the workplace and life generally and also provides a more satisfactory resolution to the “problem” than would have been available to Ovid. As Robin (another name used for both sexes) tells Anthea, “It’s what we do with the myths we grow up with that matters.”

The book is typographically idiosyncratic in that the author’s name on the title page, the page headers (Smith’s name on even pages and the book’s title on the odd,) the names of the dedicatees and the authors of the epigraphs are rendered in a fetching pink and as in most of Smith’s books the right hand margin is unjustified but, in this case, not in a distracting way.

This may be a short novel but it is perfectly formed, the best by Smith I have read.

Pedant’s corner:- back and fore (maybe it is an Inverness thing;) and in the acknowledgements, H2O (H2O.) Here Smith also seems to find it noteworthy that ‘water is bent,’ but that isn’t news to a chemist.

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  1. Denis Cullinan

    Love dat Pedant’s Corner.

    A new horror has arisen in the form of a popular assininification of chemical formulas. Subscripts are down the rat-hole. And so, for ethanol, we now get. “CH3CH2OH”. I no longer swear in print. Therefore, in the words of Oliver Hardy, I have nothing to say.

    Tiresias was a wonan at one time, wasn’t he? I remember in Latin class reading of Tiresias’ “wrinkled dugs,” the remnants of his days as a female. Those ancients were a real hoot. It took us millenia, thanks to the Jenner fuss, to catch up. I so glad we finally got on board.

  2. Denis Cullinan

    I just contributed to the Pedant’s Corner. I should have written


    Wouldn’t you know it? The d****d Google spelling corrector changed this to


    I have nothing to say.

  3. jackdeighton

    I just thought that when people wrote CH3CH2OH they were only being lazy.
    Or else didn’t know where to find the subscript command.
    Or were a journalist.

  4. jackdeighton

    Autocorrect is the blight of my life.
    I type in one of the errata I want to note down for Pedant’s corner and the damned machine alters it! It makes you wonder how they manage to appear in print.

    Plus it always wants to put a capital letter when I start a new note and I frequently need it to be lower case.

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