2005 Whitbread Literary Awards Winner
2005 Booker Prize Nominee
Synopses & Reviews
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 mothers 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.
"While the Smarts are a happy, prosperous British family on the surface, underneath they are as friable as a Balkan republic. Eve suffers from a block about writing yet another of her popular Genuine Article books (a series of imaginary reconstructions of obscure, actual figures from the past). Michael, her English professor husband, is a philanderer whose sexual predation on his students has reached critical mass. Teenaged Magnus, Eve's son by first husband Adam, is consumed by guilt around a particularly heinous school prank. And Astrid, Eve and Adam's daughter, is a 12-year- old channeling the angst of a girl three years older. Into this family drops one Amber MacDonald, a mysterious stranger who embeds herself in the family's summer rental in Norfolk and puts them all under her bullying spell. By some collective hallucination one into which Smith (Hotel World) utterly and completely draws the reader each Smart sees Amber as a savior, even as she violates their codes and instincts. So sure-handed are Smith's overlapping descriptions of the same events from different viewpoints that her simple, disquieting story lifts into brilliance. When Eve finally breaks the spell and kicks Amber out, it precipitates a series of long overdue jolts that destroys the family's fraught equilibrium, but the shock of Smith's facility remains." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Ms. Smith is a wonderful ventriloquist, adept at throwing her voice into an astonishing array of characters....[S]he captures their thoughts, their dream lives, their sense of their place in the world with perfect and unwavering pitch." Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
"Smith captures the speech and thoughts of each character with a real, compassionate kind of virtuosity." San Francisco Chronicle
"[A] thoroughly charming and melodic novel." Boston Globe
"Smith is a wizard at observing and memorializing the ebb and flow of the everyday mind." New York Times Book Review
"The novel is alternately narrated by each member of the Smart family, but it is candid Astrid who steals the show, wandering through town with digital camera in hand." Booklist
From the author of "Hotel World"--shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Orange Prize--comes an inventive and thought-provoking novel about a chance encounter that irrevocably changes a family's understanding of itself.
About the Author
Ali Smith is the author of six works of fiction, including the novel Hotel World, which was shortlisted for both the Orange Prize and the Booker Prize in 2001 and won the Encore Award and the Scottish Arts Council Book of the Year Award in 2002. Her story collections include Free Love, which won the Saltire Society Scottish First Book Award and a Scottish Arts Council Award, and The Whole Story and Other Stories. Born in Inverness, Scotland, in 1962, Smith now lives in Cambridge, England.