Smith, one of England's most popular authors, won the Whitbread Award for this remarkable novel. When a pretty young woman named Amber arrives at the Norfolk summer home of the Smart family in need of a place to stay, they take her in. Eve and Michael Smart are vacationing with Eve's children—Astrid, 12, and Magnus, 17. Amber quickly befriends the rebellious Astrid, who likes to film everything in sight with her digital video camera, and easily charms geeky Magnus, a math expert. She even wins over their self-satisfied stepfather, Michael, an English professor who likes to seduce his students. Eve, a writer of cheap novels, has become accustomed to Michael's adulterous ways and is indifferent to his growing affection for Amber. Indeed, Michael falls in love with the mysterious young woman—so deeply that he considers giving everything up for her. Told from the perspectives of all four family members, as well as that of Amber, The Accidental is a small tour-de-force, powerful and unrelenting in its look at a family forever altered by the unexpected arrival of a stranger. Smith, author of the acclaimed Hotel World (2001), has a growing reputation, and it's easy to see why.
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Kirkus Reviews 2005 November #2
Dazzling wordplay and abundant imagination invigorate a tale of lives interrupted. Highly touted Brit Smith (Hotel World, 2002, etc.) is an original whose choppy perspectives and internal riffs take some getting used to. This third novel, her second to be shortlisted for the Booker Prize, reveals its hand slowly as it switches among Alhambra, a recurrent character, and the separate trajectories of the Smart family, on holiday in Norfolk. Astrid, 12 and bored, sees life at one remove through the viewfinder of her camera; her brother Magnus, implicated in a bullying that led to a school mate's death, is borderline suicidal; their mother, Eve, a writer, is blocked; and their stepfather, Michael, an academic, is a compulsive philanderer. Each of these lives is thrown onto a different track by the arrival of mysterious, mercurial Amber, who is probably not telling the truth when she says she became a vagrant after killing a child in a car accident. Amber is lovely, fierce and unpredictable. She throws Astrid's camera away and seduces Magnus. Indifferent towards Michael's physical charms, she reveals to him the waning of his sexual allure. After Amber kisses Eve, she is thrown out of the house, and takes her revenge by stripping the Smarts' London home of everything, including faucets and doorknobs. But even bigger things are ahead. Inventive, intelligent, playful, Smith has a pin-sharp ear for her characters' voices. Underneath the glittering surface lies a darker debate about truth and consequences, as well as a magnificent history of the cinema. It's not so much about the story as it is about the virtuosity of the telling. Copyright Kirkus 2005 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.
Library Journal Reviews 2005 September #2
Amber looks so innocent when she arrives barefoot at the Norfolk summer cottage of Eve Smart and her family, but her presence causes major disruption-even after she's sent packing. With a six-city tour. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2005 October #5
While the Smarts are a happy, prosperous British family on the surface, underneath they are as friable as a Balkan republic. Eve suffers from a block about writing yet another of her popular Genuine Article books (a series of imaginary reconstructions of obscure, actual figures from the past). Michael, her English professor husband, is a philanderer whose sexual predation on his students has reached critical mass. Teenaged Magnus, Eve's son by first husband Adam, is consumed by guilt around a particularly heinous school prank. And Astrid, Eve and Adam's daughter, is a 12-year- old channeling the angst of a girl three years older. Into this family drops one Amber MacDonald, a mysterious stranger who embeds herself in the family's summer rental in Norfolk and puts them all under her bullying spell. By some collective hallucination--one into which Smith (Hotel World ) utterly and completely draws the reader--each Smart sees Amber as a savior, even as she violates their codes and instincts. So sure-handed are Smith's overlapping descriptions of the same events from different viewpoints that her simple, disquieting story lifts into brilliance. When Eve finally breaks the spell and kicks Amber out, it precipitates a series of long overdue jolts that destroys the family's fraught equilibrium, but the shock of Smith's facility remains. (Jan.)[Page 33]. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.