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The Whole Story and Other Stories Paperback – March 9, 2004

4.5 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Switching back to short fiction after a highly successful debut novel (Hotel World), Smith crafts 12 sharp, unsettling stories tuned to a frequency just beyond the range of reality. The collection begins with "The Universal Story," about a man who buys up used copies of The Great Gatsby for his sister; she plans to use them to build a paper boat. Engaging as it is in itself, this narrative is just the pretext for a meditation on the nature of storytelling, which Smith undertakes by shifting her focus to marginal characters and then to a meandering fly. Other, similarly inventive and whimsical conceits dominate the collection. In "May," for instance, a woman falls in love with a tree on a neighbor's property that literally becomes a rival for her husband's affection, while in "Gothic," a bookstore clerk has to deal with a series of odd and occasionally threatening customers. A frequent preoccupation is the way art and literature work on the imagination. Smith pokes cheeky fun at contemporary art in "The Shortlist Season," in which the protagonist visits a gallery and has a curiously physical reaction to what she sees ("Perhaps, I thought to myself, I could have tests for art intolerance, like patch tests"). Some of the conceits are rather airy, but the combination of Smith's startlingly inventive story lines and her ability to get into the hearts and heads of her often squirrelly characters makes her tales oddly affecting. Smith forces readers to examine their assumptions, particularly as readers and consumers of their own fictions.
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From Booklist

In this short-story collection, Smith, author of Hotel World (2002), which was short-listed for the Booker Prize, displays a bizarre inventiveness in her premises and a flair for language. Falling in love with a tree, being stalked by Death on a train platform, talking garden-equipment-wielding bandits out of their inept robbery attempt--it's all in a day's work for Smith's narrators, who seem to be inhabiting a world that is considerably more comical and magical than the real one. In "The Universal Story," one of the longest in the collection, a young man travels the British countryside buying up editions of The Great Gatsby for his sister; she intends to use the books to construct a boat. In "Gothic," an independent bookstore turns out to be a forbidding and rule-bound employer; a happy, sweatshirt-wearing employee finds that "proper blouses" turn her into a dull, cowed person. Sometimes comical, sometimes disturbing, these are often-puzzling stories by a facile writer whose technique can sometimes seem like a barrier to engagement. For experimental-fiction followers. Joanne Wilkinson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; 1St Edition edition (March 9, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 140007567X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400075676
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #763,491 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I'm a big fan of Jeanette Winterson, and I'll confess that her endorsement on the cover of the book sold me. But after reading this delightful collection cover to cover in a couple of days, I'll say Smith's work is its own endorsement. Like Winterson, Smith has a magical quality to her storytelling and her I/you gender play (I'm surprised the official book review above claims so smugly that the person who fell in love with a tree had a husband!) I was hooked from the first tale, "The Universal Story" (which reminded me of Woolf's splendid "Kew Gardens") and kept finding gem after gem. Even the longest stories seemed to fly by. Ali Smith is a really rewarding read. She's invigorated my summer reading.
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I've always enjoyed short stories and was anxious to read these based on the glowing reviews. Yikes. The style is way too precious for my taste. Here is the beginning of the first story:

"There was a man dwelt by a churchyard.
Well, no, okay, it wasn't always a man; in this particular case it was a woman. There was a woman dwelt by a churchyard.
Though, to be honest, nobody really uses that word nowadays. Everybody says cemetery. And nobody says dwelt any more. In other words:
There was a woman who lived by a cemetery. Every morning when she woke up she looked out of her back window and saw -
Actually, no. There was once a woman who lived by - no, in - a second-hand bookshop."

I am already crazy with annoyance, reading this balderdash -- too precious by half -- and I haven't even turned the first page.

There are twelve stories, slivers of Scottish lives, and the style is often intrusive. This is definitely not to my taste, but based on other reviews, others may enjoy it.
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Format: Paperback
This is a writer who innovates, with spare, accurate, fresh prose. Modern characters are alive, complex,with fantastic ability to love and defy expectations.

The after-taste is deeply comforting stories, though these stories can also be unsettling and provocative. Funny too. Funny is really the thing. These stories prod the funny bone of our tender human worries, wants and heartbreaks. Truly beautiful writing, I'm collecting every one of her books. Thank you Ali Smith, for writing! Very beautiful stories here!
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