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The Accidental Paperback – April 10, 2007

3.2 out of 5 stars 84 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Before writing The Accidental, Ali Smith wrote Hotel World, shortlisted for both the Orange Prize and the Man Booker Prize, and several short story collections. Her work is absolutely original, with a trademark quirky style, with whole passages that seem to have been bound into the wrong book and occasional historical asides completely outside the narrative line. Don't be fooled; with Smith, every word has a purpose.

Amber is the catalyst who makes the novel happen. She appears on the doorstep of the Smart's rented summer cottage in Norfolk, England, barefoot and unexpected. Eve Smart, a third-rate author suffering writer's block, believes that she is a friend of her husband's. Michael is a womanizing University professor, but he doesn't usually drag his quarry home. He thinks that she must be a friend of Eve's. Everyone is politely confused and Amber is invited to dinner. She is a consummate liar and manipulator who manages to seduce everyone in the family in some significant way.

Magnus, Eve's 17-year-old son from a former marriage and Astrid, her 12-year-old daughter, are easy prey. Magnus is in despair. He played a prank on a classmate and it went horribly wrong when she killed herself because of the humiliation it caused. He cannot shake the guilt and is about to hang himself from the shower rod when Amber walks into the bathroom, the perfect deus ex machina. She bathes him and takes him back downstairs, announcing that she found him trying to kill himself. Everyone titters. Could it be possible? This is a recurring question as Amber's behavior becomes more and more outrageous. Is this really happening, or is it some family-wide delusion? To add to the mystery, there is a Rashomon-like character to the story in that the same events are recalled by the Smarts through their own filters.

This is a completely engrossing novel that raises as many questions as it answers. --Valerie Ryan --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Heather O'Neill plays Amber, a mysterious stranger who wangles her way into the lives of a vacationing English family spending the summer in a remote cottage. O'Neill reads with studious detachment and a persistent air of mischief, as if the entire story is a particularly juicy practical joke. Given Amber's predilection for wreaking havoc in her new adopted family's comfortably misguided lives, the emotion is supremely apropos. O'Neill is joined by a cast of performers, including Ruth Moore as the perpetually harried, perpetually preoccupied Eve, who spends all her time dreaming of the characters of the latest historical novel she's writing, and Stina Nielsen as Astrid, a 12-year-old with a frightening imagination and a propensity for recording the world on her video camera. The bulk of the book, though, is read by O'Neill, who provides a suitably nuanced reading, at times placid, at times flashing an air of free-floating menace. It is her work, above all, that brings Smith's novel to fully fleshed existence.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; First Edition, First Printing edition (April 10, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400032180
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400032181
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (84 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #590,190 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By KasaC VINE VOICE on January 19, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
There are so many pleasures to be found in this skillfully crafted book. Whether it is the characters' names, their hidden perceptions, the setup, or the interior monologue of the catalyctic Amber, the only story told in first person. Initially, the four "Smarts" are so wrapped up in their individual dramas, that they barely intersect. Many issues of the day are addressed, some of which don't become apparent until after the book has been closed. The reader keeps returning to passages, wondering how this or that was missed the first time around, but realizing that until the entire picture has been presented, it would be impossible to isolate a revelation. To say more would ruin new readers' experience of taking this journey for themselves. It provided more fun than I've had in a long time with a book.
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Format: Hardcover
Ali Smith's Whitbread Prize winning "The Accidental" has drawn a mixed bag of reactions, polarizing opinions with critics roughly standing on one side and readers on the other side. The critics seem to love the book for its quirky post-modernist homage to stream-of-consciousness styling and its unusual treatment of "anomie", an aberration in the human condition that in the case of the Smart family has reduced its members to emotionally disassociated individuals living under the same roof. The book may be awfully clever for all the right writer-ly reasons, but how many readers give two hoots when they can't see the pay off in navigating past thickets of rambling prose to discover the fate of four, maybe five, not very likeable people....including one who may be "imaginary" after all or worse a mere fictional device !

Well, I confess that my feelings vacillated wildly between curious enthusiasm and downright frustration when reading the book. Amber was conceived in a cinema. That much we know....trouble is, that's also as much as we'll ever know about her. Each chapter is dedicated by turns to a "family" character. There's Michael the philandering husband/stepfather, Eve the writer-in-selfdenial wife/mother, Magnus the mixed up suicidal teenage son and Astrid the camera-obsessed changeling of a daughter. The few pages devoted to Amber, the catalyst for the Smarts' miraculous transformation, are more like dividers, consisting of short bursts of social, pop cultural and cinematic history. So who's Amber, why does she affect each member of the Smart family the way she does and what's her motive ? Good questions, but we don't get any answers, so we'd better figure them out for ourselves, mustn't we ?
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Format: Hardcover
Surprise and chance have a way of intrusively wedging a new perspective into people's lives. The four members of the Smart family seem in particular need of just such an unexpected element during their holiday in the Norfolk countryside. All of them are on the brink of a major crisis in their lives, but most of them are carefully avoiding the reality of their situations. At their idyllic getaway which the daughter Astrid views as an "unhygienic dump" they receive an unexpected visitor who brashly delivers a new point of view. From beginning, middle to end they are shaken into a new understanding of the world.

This is an intelligent, carefully structured novel that is both funny and illuminating. A chance trip to watch the movie Love Actually leads Magnus, the confused young son of the family to ruminate on Plato's ideas about Belief and Illusion. Ali Smith is able to incorporate myth and philosophy into her wry look at ordinary modern life in a way that produces an entirely fresh way of seeing. From the minute details of life to the war in Iraq playing in the background, the methods we use to understand things are exposed and questioned. Whether seeing reality through the filter of Astrid's camera lens or the mathematical equations of Magnus, the way we view the world is scrupulously examined. But the characters have a sense that truth is still hidden from them leading them to use new tools to examine it. Ali Smith bravely experiments with language and the form of the novel to re-view life. If her technique is viewed by some as placing literary panache over essential meaning then Smith seems to answer this through her character the novelist Eve who responds, "It's not a gimmick. Every question has an answer." Smith cleverly constructs different paths to bring us to new answers.
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Format: Hardcover
Novelist Ali Smith's books (HOTEL WORLD, THE ACCIDENTAL) have been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and it is certainly no mystery as to why. Her writing is fresh, her character development is thorough and refreshingly consistent, and her motivation for writing clearly is not to prove a point, to push an overarching authorial voice, or to flaunt her obvious talent, but simply to allow her characters to tell a good story. Winner of the 2005 Whitbread Book Award, THE ACCIDENTAL is such an engrossing and contemplative novel that you'll want to read it a second time in order to pick up what you might have missed the first go-round.

Although Smith's stream-of-consciousness writing style takes a bit of getting used to, it is inevitably the glue that holds this fascinating book together. Split into three sections (the beginning, the middle and the end), the story slowly and deftly unfolds as the perspective switches from character to character, narrator to narrator. What we are left with at the novel's conclusion is a patchworked, pieced-together glimpse into a broken down yet blazingly human family before, during and after the strange summer that permanently altered each member and changed their outlook on life (and each other) in mystifying ways.

Before "escaping" for a summer to a rented cottage in Norfolk, the Smarts (12-year-old Astrid, 17-year-old Magnus, and parents Eve and Michael) resemble a typical dysfunctional family. Astrid spends her days either walled up inside her imagination or behind a video camera filming other people's "far more interesting" lives. Magnus sequesters himself in his room, refusing to bathe, eat, or speak to his family after a school prank he masterminded results in a classmate's suicide.
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