There But For The by Ali Smith

Miles Garth, a barely met acquaintance at a dinner party, disappears into an upstairs guest room and refuses to leave.  As the days (weeks!) go by, his act of isolation becomes a cause celebre and Miles gets followers of all types, people willing to camp out for the chance to see a glimpse of this elusive man. 

This is the basic premise for There But For The.  The plot line, if it can be called that, is not that easy.  Told from the viewpoints of four people who knew or encountered Miles at some point in his forty-something lifetime, the book is written in a stream of consciousness mode that sometimes is hard to follow and at other instances is a total hoot.  There’s Anna, a Scottish woman with vague but fond memories of Miles during a school trip thirty years previous.  There’s Mark, who invited Miles to the dinner party. He muses on his meeting with him amidst cryptic rhymes from his long-gone mother; his chapter gives the best detail to what happened at the dinner party before Miles’ self-imposed exile.  There’s May, in her eighties and drifting mentally, who remembers Miles in connection with her daughter who died in her teens.  Then there’s Brooke, a precocious ten-year old with energy and imagination to burn, who was also at the dinner party and maybe knows more than anyone about the elusive Mr. Garth.

I wouldn’t call There But For The a joy read, as it reads like a series of dream sequences and as such, I found it hard to follow.  That being said, the book has merit and a sense of fun.  Ali Smith obviously loves wordplay and I do too; the use of puns and such helped through some of the mirkier passages. The book has interesting observations of latter-day British society.  Miles remains a mystery, a background motif, as the other characters flesh out the book with their own lives and fears.  In the chapter about May, I think the author captured the disillusionment of an elderly lady about the best of any I have read.  As with Brooke, she got the smart but attention deficit kid down pat, and made her sympathetic as well.

(William Hicks, Information Services)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: