Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Abandoning There But For The

I started reading There But For The by Ali Smith because it's a book with a wonderful premise: a man has locked himself in an almost stranger's spare bedroom and he refuses to leave. The book description then does an excellent job selling the novel as the conversations between this man and the strangers who try to lure him out.

The book description is actually a lot better than the book itself. At the start of the novel, I was intrigued. I kind of liked the roundabout writing style, I kind of liked the odd character introductions, and I kind of liked the way nothing really made sense. But after one hundred pages of the same not-much, I realized I wouldn't be finishing There But For The.

Perhaps rightly so. I abandoned it only a few days ago (having begun it last week), and already I've lost it. I remember a vague sense of frustration with the novel, but the heart of my annoyance is gone. Nothing is left. The characters, who had a certain thin, slick quality to them, are all missing from my noggin. All I have is a strange aftertaste from the writing style - one I'm still not certain is either positive or negative.

A few years ago I would have done all I could to finish There But For The, ignoring other books I would have enjoyed more. Today, as I returned the book to the library, I was reminded of the three good books I've read in the days since I gave up on There But For The, and know that I made the right choice.

* Also, what is up with the cover? While somewhat striking, this has to be one of the least attractive covers I've seen in a very long time...


  1. When I first began as a primary teacher the received wisdom was that children must always finish a book. Well we all know what you should do with received wisdom, don't we? I raised considerable hackles by suggesting (and in my classroom, implementing) the policy that we should at least ask the child why they didn't want to finish the book and if they could give a reasoned response let them pick something else. You would have thought I'd suggested that the Earth wasn't flat after all! You seem to have a reasoned response - I give you full permission to choose another book:)

  2. I abandoned this one too. I agree that the premise sounded fantastic and I also find that I remember very little about the book apart from the weird writing style. I can see why other people like it, but it was a bit too experimental for me.

  3. I used to read to the bitter end when I wasn't much grabbed by a book. I don't know why. These days, if it doesn't get better as I slog along, I do abandon it and turn to a more interesting book.

  4. funny, your review sounds like a replay of mine, except that I received it, as an audiobook, from the publisher, so I had t listen to it all to review it.
    I'm the same mind: there are so many great books out there, and days have only 24 hours, so why bother with something mediocre.
    see my review here:

  5. Ali Smith always sounds like a very slick sort of author. That's an excellent adjective! A very lot of style, is what she seems like, and maybe not so much substance? That's what I've always thought when I've tried a few pages of her books.

  6. I've been curious about this book. Just the unfinished title makes me want to pick it up and see if the rest is inside. But after reading your review I'll probably ignore the urge.
    So what are the good books that you've read?
    I think you might enjoy The Clothes They Stood Up In by Alan Bennett. Hopefully I'll get around to reviewing it, one of these days.

  7. I skimmed read the last quarter of the book which is similar to abandoning the book really. I didn't like it.


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