Flair and fair? ‘There but for the’ by Ali Smith

This novel was really unexpected. In terms of style, it was certainly original. Even the paragraphs were not printed normally, for example. They were not justified in line with the side of the pages of the book. Repetition was used to good effect, while brackets and italics were also employed quite extensively. In short, it was a pleasure to read.

However, the content did not quite match the superlative style. The story of a man who chose not to leave a room in a house owned by somebody else was a little on the flimsy side. While there were some characters that were constructed effectively, others were less plausible. And it was hard to sustain great interest in what would happen to any of them.

Nevertheless, the novel has been compared by a critic to ‘A Visit From the Goon Squad’ by Jennifer Egan. ‘There but for the’ seems slightly less empty than the clever postmodernism of Egan. This is because Smith is a real wordsmith with a genuine appreciation for the weakest of puns. Hence I would recommend ‘There but for the’ on the basis of its style.   

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