Friday, May 18, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: "There but for the"

There but for the
By Ali Smith
Copyright 2011
Pantheon Books
Adult Fiction
1 Bookmark

So there I was, reading a list of MUST READ BOOKS OF 2011 and I came across this title.  Intriguing.  There but for the what?, I thought.  So I queued up the book on my library account and waited for a copy to become available so I could find out.

When I picked up the book, I was kind of disappointed at the cover.  I mean, really.  No picture.  No art.  No anything but a typewriter font of the title (they even had to declare it was "a novel" on the cover because otherwise no one would have known).  I'm a big fan of clever book covers, so this was strike number one.

Strike number two came pretty quickly after that when I got about halfway through the first page of the introduction and realized the story was to be told with the dialect of a 10-year-old.  I have a 10-year-old.  I really don't have much interest reading a book written in the style of what I hear on a daily basis.  But I kept reading.  Because, after all, this was on a MUST READ list. 

Chapter one started out a little better; no longer in the childish vernacular, but with a more traditional story-teller tone.  However, a few short paragraphs later, I once again ran into trouble when the story slipped into some pretty hefty word association and strayed into some unbelievably ridiculous tangents.  Strike number three.  Frankly, it just went downhill from there. 

To summarize what there is of a plot, you have a dinner party where one of the guests has brought a guest of his own.  Sometime between dinner and dessert, the guest's guest (named Miles) goes upstairs and just doesn't come back down.  In fact, he has locked himself into a bedroom/bath suite and refuses to come out.  He refuses to talk to anyone.  He merely sends out a note with what he requests to be fed while he is holed up in the room.  And he stays there.  For months.  The homeowners are furious, but don't want to break down their antique door.  The media finds out and reports on the story. The crazies of the world come out of hiding and set up camp around the house to worship the guy holed up in the room.

The book is basically four long chapters about four characters who vaguely know Miles and how they know him.  And that's it.  Yep, that's right.  That's the whole story.  I got to the end, turned the page and was like "huh?"  I just read 236 pages to find out.....nothing?  What a waste of my valuable reading time! 

There were a few saving graces in the book (thus the 1 bookmark rating instead of a big, fat ZERO).  The author threw in a few great little one-liners like "Google is so strange.  It promises everything, but everything isn't there."  Also, one of the characters in the book, Brooke (the 10-year-old of the introduction) is a little miss smarty pants, uses lots of big words, refers to herself as a "cleverist" and has some giggle-worthy monologues.  In one, she is complaining about a play that put her to sleep.  She calls it an "Alps of boredom" (I could totally picture my own 10-year-old saying something like this). 

So I know this was on the MUST READ list for 2011.  But really, it just rambles and goes off on all these tangents that don't take you anywhere. Not worth the read, even for the one-liners.  And I still don't know the answer to the question There but for the what?


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