Reviews for There but for the : A Novel


Booklist Reviews 2011 September #2
The unwanted houseguest strikes terror in the hearts of even the most seasoned hosts. So imagine Londoner Genevieve Lee's chagrin when Miles, a dinner-party guest in her posh Greenwich home, locks himself in an upstairs bedroom and refuses to leave. Miles seems like a perfectly normal chap, and Mark, his companion for the evening, has no idea what has come over his friend. Days and weeks (!) pass, and Genevieve and her husband's predicament becomes prime fodder for the tabloids. Curious citizens convene on the Lees' front lawn, hoping for a glimpse of their long-term visitor. Smith reveals Miles' story through a quartet of narrators: fetching fortysomething Anna; dinner mate Mark; quirky octogenarian May; and precocious 10-year-old Brooke. Through their voices, Miles' many manias are revealed. Wordplay peppers Whitbread Award winner Smith's pithy prose, linguistic athleticism that is clever and engaging (though at times a bit too much). Her latest offering is likely to leave readers a bit wary of those they welcome into their homes. Copyright 2011 Booklist Reviews.

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BookPage Reviews 2011 September
The discreet charm of absurdity

British author Ali Smith has never been what you’d call a conventional novelist. Whether she is using a hotel as a metaphor for the various stages of life, examining the impact of uninvited guests or re-envisioning a classic Greek myth, Smith has proved she isn’t afraid of taking chances or pushing boundaries.

Smith’s novels tend to begin with a slightly outlandish but irresistibly intriguing premise. Her latest novel, There But For The, is the story of Miles Garth, a man who attends a dinner party only to lock himself in his hosts’ spare bedroom partway through the meal and then refuses to leave. Leave it to Smith to take a seemingly simple and straightforward (and absurd!) idea and transform it into anything but.

A postmodern writer at her very core, Smith uses multiple narrators, ranging from a 10-year-old girl to a woman on her deathbed, to tell the story. Although the title of the novel is itself a frustratingly incomplete fragment, readers will find it fitting: Each of the narrators offers only a snippet of insight into Miles, none of them truly being privy to his entire person. It is only by sifting through and synthesizing these wisps that a larger picture begins to emerge.

This isn’t to say that by the end everything is made clear; this is one novel that will have you puzzling over it well after its final page has been turned. There But For The isn’t the kind of book you read in order to find answers, but rather to ponder questions. This is a novel that is deeply cerebral and is guaranteed to get your synapses firing. For those who relish a bit of an enigma and are looking for something extraordinary when it comes to fiction, There But For The delivers in spades.

Copyright 2011 BookPage Reviews.

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Kirkus Reviews 2011 September #1
An enigmatic British man locks himself indefinitely in a guest room during a party, altering forever the lives of four people who barely know him.


Charming and intelligent, Miles Garth is in many ways a desirable guest. And when he accompanies handsome 60-year-old Mark Palmer to Genevieve and Eric Lee's annual "alternative" dinner party in Greenwich, it is assumed Miles is the older man's new lover. He is not, and has in fact just met Mark at a theater performance. Halfway through the meal, Miles heads upstairs ostensibly to use the bathroom, and does not come back down. Sequestered in the Lees' extra room, he offers no explanation but does pass a note requesting vegetarian meals be sent under the door. At a loss over what to do, Genevieve tracks down Anna Hardie, a Scottish woman who met Miles briefly when they were teenagers. As Anna recalls his kindness to her during a school trip, she begins to come to terms with her own past and uncertain future. Miles has that affect on people. Anna also befriends Brooke, a precocious, lonely 9-year-old neighbor girl who met Miles at the party as well. Meanwhile, news of Miles' weird sit-in ripples throughout the community, and people begin to think of him as some kind of folk hero with almost mystical powers. That Miles is both more and less than he appears to be is part of the fun in this witty, deconstructed mystery. With its shifting points of view, Smith (The First Person: and Other Stories, 2009, etc.) displays a virtuoso gift for channeling her character's inner voices. Happily, the book manages to wear its profundity lightly.

Offbeat exploration of the human need to connect with others.

  Copyright Kirkus 2011 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

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Library Journal Reviews 2011 April #2

No, that's not a typo; it's the sort of title you would expect from brilliantly quirky Whitbread Award winner Smith. As is the premise: a friend of a friend brings a stranger to a dinner party as his guest. Halfway through the meal, the guest locks himself in a room and won't leave. Ever. Just imagine the sense of despair and fatedness. Ambitious readers will definitely want to try.

[Page 70]. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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Library Journal Reviews 2011 August #1

Like several recent novels, notably Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad, Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge, and Tom Rachman's The Imperfectionists, this work is a collection of interlocking stories organized around a single theme and featuring multiple characters. Here the tales swirl around an unusual event at an upscale dinner party in Greenwich, England, where guest Miles Garth disappears into an upstairs bedroom at the home of his hosts and refuses to come out for weeks. Smith, whose eight previous works of fiction include the Whitbread Award-winning The Accidental, deftly satirizes our media-saturated environment, using an oddball cast of characters to point out the difficulty we have in making genuine human connections and demonstrating how beautiful and rare it is when we actually succeed. The passage of time is a constant underlying preoccupation as well, as befits the setting--home of the Royal Observatory, which established Greenwich Mean Time. VERDICT Though some of the plot points strain credulity, when read as a fable, this is a delightful, beautifully written, touching novel that will strongly appeal to lovers of language and wordplay. [See Prepub Alert, 3/21/11.]--Lauren Gilbert, Cold Spring Harbor Lib. & Environmental Ctr., NY

[Page 88]. (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2011 July #4

This startling lark from Smith (The Accidental) is so much more than the sum of its parts. Both breezy and devastating, the novel radiates from a whimsical center: Miles Garth, a dinner party guest, decides to leave the world behind and lock himself in his hostess's spare room, refusing to come out and communicating only by note. Four charmers with only tenuous links to Miles, nicknamed Milo by the growing crowd camped outside the suburban Greenwich, London house, narrate the proceedings: Anna, a girl who knew Miles briefly in the past; Mark, a melancholy gay man who Miles met watching Shakespeare at the Old Vic; May Young, an elderly woman who Miles helped grieve her daughter's death; and the wonderful, "preternaturally articulate" Brooke, arguably the cleverest 10-year-old in contemporary literature. Together they create a portrait not so much of Miles--because none of them really knows him--but of the zeitgeist of their society. In a lovely departure, and in spite of the fact that there is not one ordinary, carefree character in this whole tale, all parents are literate, loving, and tolerant: though Mark is exhausted and sad, his famous mum speaks to him, in verse no less, from beyond the grave; though May is trapped by dementia, she was a kind mother to her ill-fated daughter; and though Brooke is clearly plagued by attention deficit disorder and is misunderstood and disliked at school, her parents love her dearly. This fine, unusual novel is sweet and melancholy, indulgent of language and of the fragile oddballs who so relish in it. (Sept.)

[Page ]. Copyright 2010 PWxyz LLC

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