The Whole Story and Other Stories
by Ali Smith
A review by Brooke Allen
What whole story? The point of Ali Smith's new collection would seem to be that
there is no such thing. Experience is infinitely divisible; perspectives shimmer
and refract. In her opening tale, for instance, "The Universal Story,"
the narrative shifts rapidly and repeatedly from one point of view to another;
even a housefly takes a turn in the leading role. It sounds gimmicky, but Smith,
the author of the remarkable and highly acclaimed novel Hotel
World (2002), is not a gimmicky writer. Her simple, economical, blade-sharp
prose dignifies whatever subject she chooses, and endows even the oddest human
behavior with an inarguable inner logic. The British press frequently pigeonholes
Smith as "Scottish" and "lesbian." Sexual orientation in these
stories is usually in question, because in most of her pairings she has declined
to state the sex of the protagonists. The reader is free to imagine these couples
as man and woman, or as two men, or as two women: the stories work perfectly well
for any of these configurations, which proves that a very large portion of the
experience of love and partnership is shared by the sexes. Smith's vision, like
her prose, is startlingly fresh; her stories are short and suggestive. No longer
a young Turk (she is now over forty), Smith has moved smoothly into place as one
of Britain's most important and established writers.
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