The beginning of things – when is it exactly? Astrid Smart wants to know.
Don’t we all want to know? When things started, when things got like this? Or maybe it would be easier to say when things ended exactly, although that’s a little complicated too. You might think that in a book it would be easier to decide which bit is the beginning and which the end, but in Ali Smith’s The Accidental these narrative structures are deliberately exploded. Take the first volume for example: neatly titled “The beginning”, it actually comes after an un-labelled opening section which seems totally unrelated to the rest of the main novel. There are no true beginnings; we all have a back-story.
It is this ‘back-story’ that The Accidental really uncovers to us, slowly. Smith cautiously weaves through the minds of the dysfunctional (aren’t we all?) Smart family on holiday in a sleepy Norfolk village. A mysterious visitor arrives, brings the characters’ private lives into confusion, into each other, and then leaves. Carefully dropping hints to pick back up later, Smith rather unfolds the minds of her characters, slowly, bit by bit, but never completely.
Overall, The Accidental is a beautiful book, refreshingly original and a definite must-read!
I often use postcards as a bookmark and, as The Odyssey has a notoriously redundant sense of ‘beginning’ and ‘end’ in its depiction of an epic journey, I thought this would be appropriate. Besides, I do love Turner! If you want to see this one in the flesh, it’s on display at the National Gallery, London.