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The Accidental
ALI SMITH

The Accidental by Ali Smith
71 reviews (2005) (320p)
Man Booker Prize Finalist

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Book Description
Winner of the Whitbread Award for best novel and a finalist for the Man Booker Prize, The Accidental is the virtuoso new novel by the singularly gifted Ali Smith. Jonathan Safran Foer has called her writing "thrilling." Jeanette Winterson has praised her for her "style, ideas, and punch." Here, in a novel at once profound, playful, and exhilaratingly inventive, she transfixes us with a portrait of a family unraveled by a mysterious visitor.

Amber—thirtysomething and barefoot—shows up at the door of the Norfolk cottage that the Smarts are renting for the summer. She talks her way in. She tells nothing but lies. She stays for dinner.

Eve Smart, the author of a best-selling series of biographical reconstructions, thinks Amber is a student with whom her husband, Michael, is sleeping. Michael, an English professor, knows only that her car broke down. Daughter Astrid, age twelve, thinks she's her mother's friend. Son Magnus, age seventeen, thinks she's an angel.

As Amber insinuates herself into the family, the questions of who she is and how she's come to be there drop away. Instead, dazzled by her seeming exoticism, the Smarts begin to examine the accidents of their lives through the searing lens of Amber's perceptions. When Eve finally banishes her from the cottage, Amber disappears from their sight, but not—they discover when they return home to London—from their profoundly altered lives.

Fearlessly intelligent and written with an irresistible blend of lyricism and whimsy, The Accidental is a tour de force of literary improvisation that explores the nature of truth, the role of chance, and the transformative power of storytelling.


Amazon.com Review
Before writing The Accidental, Ali Smith wrote Hotel World, shortlisted for both the Orange Prize and the Man Booker Prize, and several short story collections. Her work is absolutely original, with a trademark quirky style, with whole passages that seem to have been bound into the wrong book and occasional historical asides completely outside the narrative line. Don't be fooled; with Smith, every word has a purpose.

Amber is the catalyst who makes the novel happen. She appears on the doorstep of the Smart's rented summer cottage in Norfolk, England, barefoot and unexpected. Eve Smart, a third-rate author suffering writer's block, believes that she is a friend of her husband's. Michael is a womanizing University professor, but he doesn't usually drag his quarry home. He thinks that she must be a friend of Eve's. Everyone is politely confused and Amber is invited to dinner. She is a consummate liar and manipulator who manages to seduce everyone in the family in some significant way.

Magnus, Eve's 17-year-old son from a former marriage and Astrid, her 12-year-old daughter, are easy prey. Magnus is in despair. He played a prank on a classmate and it went horribly wrong when she killed herself because of the humiliation it caused. He cannot shake the guilt and is about to hang himself from the shower rod when Amber walks into the bathroom, the perfect deus ex machina. She bathes him and takes him back downstairs, announcing that she found him trying to kill himself. Everyone titters. Could it be possible? This is a recurring question as Amber's behavior becomes more and more outrageous. Is this really happening, or is it some family-wide delusion? To add to the mystery, there is a Rashomon-like character to the story in that the same events are recalled by the Smarts through their own filters.

This life force who is Amber is finally thwarted when Eve, after a disturbing event, compels her to leave. The family is left to re-evaluate who they are post-Amber and to decide how to live with the changes she has brought about in them through this "accidental" encounter. This is a completely engrossing novel that raises as many questions as it answers. --Valerie Ryan


Other Award Winning Books by Ali Smith
Autumn by Ali Smith
88 reviews (2017) (272p) (NYT Top10) (Booker) (NYTimes)
Read Reviews | Visit this book's Amazon.com page
How To Be Both by Ali Smith
9 reviews (2014) (384p) (NYT100) (Booker)
Read Reviews | Visit this book's Amazon.com page
There But For The by Ali Smith
74 reviews (2011) (256p) (PW Top10)
Read Reviews | Visit this book's Amazon.com page
Hotel World by Ali Smith
41 reviews (2001) (256p) (Booker)
Read Reviews | Visit this book's Amazon.com page

Ali Smith Award Stats
Major Prize* Nominations 4  
Unique Books Nominated for a Major Prize* 4  
Pulitzer Prize Wins 0  
Pulitzer Prize Nominations 0  
National Book Critics Circle Award Wins 0  
National Book Critics Circle Award Nominations 0  
National Book Award Wins 0  
National Book Award Nominations 0  
Man Booker Prize Wins 0  
Man Booker Prize Nominations 4 Hotel World · The Accidental · How To Be Both · Autumn ·  
PEN/Faulkner Award Wins 0  
PEN/Faulkner Award Nominations 0  

*Major Prize = Pulitzer Prize, National Book Critics Circle Award, National Book Award, Man Booker Prize, and PEN/Faulkner Award

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Pulitzer Prize | National Book Critics Circle Award | National Book Award | PEN/Faulkner Award | Man Booker Prize | Contact