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There but for the

Ali Smith

Average Review Rating Average Rating 7/10 (1 Review)
Book Details

Publisher : Penguin

Published : 2012

Copyright : Ali Smith 2011

ISBN-10 : PB 0-14-102519-0
ISBN-13 : PB 978-0-14-102519-3

Publisher's Write-Up

'There once was a man who, one night between the main course and the sweet at a dinner party, went upstairs and locked himself in one of the bedrooms of the house of the people who were giving the dinner party…'

As time passes by and the consequences of this stranger's actions ripple outwards, touching the owners, the guests, the neighbours and the whole country, so Ali Smith draws us into a beautiful, strange place where everyone is so much more than they at first appear.

There but for the was hailed as one of the best books of 2011 by Jeanette Winterson, A.S. Byatt, Patrick Ness, Sebastian Barry, Boyd Tonkin, Erica Wagner and Nick Barley.

'A playfully serious or seriously playful novel full of wit and pleasure. Wonderful.'


'Eccentric, adventurous, intoxicating, dazzling. This is a novel with serious ambitions that remains huge fun to read. The writing dances along.'

Literary Review

Poignant, empathetic, funny. A book full of kindness and compassion.'

Time Out
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Reader Reviews

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Review by Ben Macnair (300415) Rating (7/10)

Review by Ben Macnair
Rating 7/10
There but for the is one of those novels that starts from a small point, and over the course, it becomes something bigger.

Something much bigger. Miles has had enough, so during an uneventful meal at the house of a mutual friend he locks himself in their spare room. And stays there, for two weeks, until the house owners have had enough of feeding him with ham through the door, and call in a friend. That Friend is Anna, who doesn’t really know Miles. Thirty years ago they met on a student exchange trip, for two weeks, and have not seen each other since. It is from this premise that the story grows and develops.

Anna is at a cross-roads, her life is not going in the direction she would have liked, and when she meets Brook, the precocious daughter of a neighbour, it will have an impact over her life, and the lives of a lot of people around her.

There but for the continues Ali Smith’s practice of writing character based drama, where the character informs the plot, rather than the other way around, so that although the novel contains a lot of people and character, they all play a part, however small in pushing the story along. The world being what it is, with rolling news, and social media, it is not long before the ripple effects of Miles can be seen and felt.

This is a fine read, and would be recommended to Ali Smith’s many existing fans, and also anyone who discovered the writer through her recent booker prize nominated How to Be Both.
Ben Macnair (30th April 2015)

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