The day starts now

Eleanor Birne

  • The Accidental by Ali Smith
    Hamish Hamilton, 306 pp, £14.99, May 2005, ISBN 0 241 14190 7

All three of Ali Smith’s novels are set in holiday places. In Like (1997), Amy Shone and her daughter Kate live on a caravan site in Scotland; the characters of Hotel World (2001) are guests and workers at the Global Hotel in an unnamed city; in The Accidental, the new book, the Smart family are spending their summer in a mock-Tudor holiday house near the Norfolk Broads. Caravan sites, hotels and holiday houses: the people in them don’t quite fit. A schoolfriend’s mother ‘isn’t at all sure about Kate Shone. She’s not sure that she likes her coming round all the time, this is what she tells her husband after the Shones leave. They live on a caravan site.’ Kate draws pictures of her dream house in crayon: ‘a flat square house with four windows and a chimney’. The people at the Global are isolated from the world inside their hotel bubble. And the Smart family are exiled from the comforts of Islington, stranded in a ‘substandard’ holiday house in the strange flat lands of East Anglia. Smith lifts her characters out of society and forces them into an isolation where anything can happen, and they have strange encounters. In Like, Kate meets her grandparents for the first time; in Hotel World, the guests and workers discover each other; The Accidental is about the impact of an intruder on a family.

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