HT Image
HT Image

Review: There But For The

The action has already risen by the time we start reading Ali Smith’s latest novel, There But For The. Miles Garth, who had accompanied Mark, a casual acquaintance, to a dinner hosted by Eric and Genevieve Lee, has managed to slip away from the rest and lock himself in a room in the Lee residence. The Lees, reluctant to break
By HT Correspondent | Antara Das, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON JUL 30, 2011 06:41 AM IST

The action has already risen by the time we start reading Ali Smith’s latest novel, There But For The. Miles Garth, who had accompanied Mark, a casual acquaintance, to a dinner hosted by Eric and Genevieve Lee, has managed to slip away from the rest and lock himself in a room in the Lee residence. The Lees, reluctant to break down their 18th century door, try every trick in the book to be rid of the guest who has overstayed his welcome, for days, and then weeks and months — from slipping him wafer-thin ham slices under the door well aware that he is a vegetarian, to contacting random persons listed in his address book who might offer a clue to such inexplicable behaviour. The central character, around whom the drama unfolds, being absent, the perspectives offered by the cast surrounding him must provide the commentary on the unusual interplay of life and emotions on display here.

The influence of the ‘Absurd’ is evident, and Smith admits being in its growing thrall in an email interview.  “I remember being taken to see Dario Fo’s Accidental Death of an Anarchist when I was about 16 ... and loving (and not being able to believe) the number of things the comic form can do, and the possible interlayering,” she writes.  Comedy can rip apart our fragile veil of social pretensions: Mark, for one, realises in the middle of the withering social satire that is the dinner that he has “made the terrible mistake of not just seeming to be but actually being sincere”. It can conjoin our notions of time and linear sequencing such that the precocious Brooke Bayoude, all of nine, instructs her classmate that there is a whole other range of numbers that come after 29: twenty ten, twenty eleven and so on. It can make the voice of a dead mother, speaking to her grown-up son say that she would have preferred a back-street abortionist if “I had known, when I was twenty-four/that you’d grow up such a godawful bore”.

And what of the person, the “absent presence” called Miles Garth who has retreated behind the door? One of the characters, Anna, wonders how shutting oneself up would affect language:  “Would words just stop being useful? Would you lose language altogether? Or would words mean more...” Not surprising then that Smith’s book, too, remains centred around the “sensitivities and insensitivities of language”, about “words and how we use them and how they use us”. Puns find extensive rhetorical usage, used with the most devastating effect by Miles, when he sums up the dinner-table conversation as “nasty, British and short”.

As the writer of “a book very rooted in books”, Smith relishes her language and and expects her reader to let the words do the thinking. There is no authoritative denouement, though  George Orwell’s ample quotation at the beginning of the novel, about how the essence of being human means “one is prepared in the end to be defeated and broken up by life”, might work for most readers. But then as Miles had himself remarked about the nature of communication, or the lack of it: “Reason not the need. Need not the reason. We don’t know. We simply don’t know.”

SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Close
The library which was set up in the last week of February by the 18 Rashtriya Rifles of the Army has become an instant hit among the students of Ranipura, Chittisigpura, Kejrival and Devipora villages, officials said. (Representational Image) (Unsplash)
The library which was set up in the last week of February by the 18 Rashtriya Rifles of the Army has become an instant hit among the students of Ranipura, Chittisigpura, Kejrival and Devipora villages, officials said. (Representational Image) (Unsplash)

Army converts bus stand to 'street library' for JK children

PTI, Anantnag
PUBLISHED ON MAR 07, 2021 07:15 PM IST
In a novel initiative, the Army has converted a dilapidated bus stand in a village in South Kashmir into a 'street library' to help students of neighbouring areas to prepare for competitive exams and higher studies.
Close
Author Durjoy Datta says the idea of love in his books has evolved over time. (Photo: Instagram/DurjoyDatta)
Author Durjoy Datta says the idea of love in his books has evolved over time. (Photo: Instagram/DurjoyDatta)

Durjoy Datta: Criticism used to bother me but now I don’t have energy for anger

By Mallika Bhagat, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON MAR 06, 2021 02:22 PM IST
The author popular for exploring romance genre talks about not taking criticism to heart, his ever evolving concept of love, and even shares some words of wisdom for the young writers.
Close
Women's Day: Reese Witherspoon shares this ‘illuminating’ book as her March pick(Instagram/reesewitherspoon)
Women's Day: Reese Witherspoon shares this ‘illuminating’ book as her March pick(Instagram/reesewitherspoon)

Women's Day: Reese Witherspoon shares this ‘illuminating’ book as her March pick

By Zarafshan Shiraz
UPDATED ON MAR 06, 2021 01:03 PM IST
  • Ahead of Women’s Day 2021, Hollywood actor Reese Witherspoon shares an ‘exceptionally powerful and illuminating’ book as her March pick after launching a free app for her book club which celebrates ‘diverse voices that put women at the center of their stories’
Close
Priyanka Chopra shares her favourite books by women authors(Instagram/priyankachopra)
Priyanka Chopra shares her favourite books by women authors(Instagram/priyankachopra)

Women's History Month: Priyanka Chopra shares favourite books by female authors

By Nishtha Grover, Delhi
PUBLISHED ON MAR 06, 2021 11:09 AM IST
  • Priyanka Chopra recently took to her Instagram stories and shared a few of her favourite books written by female authors in celebration of Women's History Month. Check out the list here:
Close
Vishnunarayanan Namboothiri (Mohit Suneja)
Vishnunarayanan Namboothiri (Mohit Suneja)

Essay: A tribute to Vishnunarayanan Namboothiri

By CP Surendran
UPDATED ON MAR 06, 2021 04:30 PM IST
The work of the Malayalam poet, who died on February 25, invoked an inclusive democracy of kindness and of the coexistence of humans, animals and things
Close
Books on food nostalgia, the uses and excitement of lifelong learning, and colonialism feature on the list of recommended reads this week. (HT Team)
Books on food nostalgia, the uses and excitement of lifelong learning, and colonialism feature on the list of recommended reads this week. (HT Team)

HT Picks: New Reads

By HT Team
PUBLISHED ON MAR 05, 2021 11:30 PM IST
Recipes, nostalgia, the art of picking up new skills, and an exploration of Britain’s strange collective amnesia about its colonial past feature on this week’s reading list
Close
Author Olivia Sudjic (Courtesy Bloomsbury)
Author Olivia Sudjic (Courtesy Bloomsbury)

Interview: Olivia Sudjic, author, Asylum Road

By Simar Bhasin
PUBLISHED ON MAR 05, 2021 11:09 PM IST
The author talks about exploring self-destructive impulses and the myths of exceptionalism in her post-Brexit novel
Close
A picture, dated December 20, 2020, of a mural in New Delhi depicting the fight against the corona virus. (Sanchit Khanna/HT PHOTO)
A picture, dated December 20, 2020, of a mural in New Delhi depicting the fight against the corona virus. (Sanchit Khanna/HT PHOTO)

Review: Covid-19: Separating Fact from Fiction by Anirban Mahapatra

By Sukumar Ranganathan
PUBLISHED ON MAR 05, 2021 10:36 PM IST
Anirban Mahapatra’s book places the coronavirus disease pandemic in the context of the science of viruses and viral pandemics
Close
The book, titled "Dynasty to Democracy: The Untold Story of Smriti Irani's Triumph", traces Union Minister Irani's journey from her defeat in 2014 to her victory in the Congress stronghold of Amethi, Uttar Pradesh during the 2019 Lok Sabha election.(Amazon)
The book, titled "Dynasty to Democracy: The Untold Story of Smriti Irani's Triumph", traces Union Minister Irani's journey from her defeat in 2014 to her victory in the Congress stronghold of Amethi, Uttar Pradesh during the 2019 Lok Sabha election.(Amazon)

Book on Smriti Irani's victory in Amethi to release in English

PTI, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON MAR 05, 2021 04:57 PM IST
The English translation of journalist-author Anant Vijay's book "Amethi Sangram: Aitihasik Jeet Ankahi Dastan" will be released on March 15, announced publishing house Westland on Friday.
Close
Cecilia Ahern's book 'Roar' to be aired as female-driven dark-comic Apple series(Twitter/SairaHussain90/Cecelia_Ahern/delirium_nerd)
Cecilia Ahern's book 'Roar' to be aired as female-driven dark-comic Apple series(Twitter/SairaHussain90/Cecelia_Ahern/delirium_nerd)

Cecelia Ahern's book 'Roar' to be aired as female-driven dark-comic Apple series

By Zarafshan Shiraz
UPDATED ON MAR 05, 2021 01:02 PM IST
  • Irish author Cecelia Ahern's book 'Roar', which was a female-driven anthology of 30 short stories, to be screened on Apple TV+ as an 8-episode series starring Emmy and Golden Globe award winners Nicole Kidman, Alison Brie, Cynthia Erivo and Merritt Wever
Close
King, 77, will also write about her activism on behalf of women in tennis and beyond, and such private struggles as an eating disorder and acknowledging her sexual identity.(Amazon)
King, 77, will also write about her activism on behalf of women in tennis and beyond, and such private struggles as an eating disorder and acknowledging her sexual identity.(Amazon)

Billie Jean King memoir 'All In' to be published in August

AP, New York
PUBLISHED ON MAR 05, 2021 10:52 AM IST
Billie Jean King has a memoir coming this summer, and she calls it a journey to her “authentic self.”
Close
As the warming world faces raging forest fires, rising seas and increasingly erratic weather, the United States has seen a boom in books about climate change.(Unsplash)
As the warming world faces raging forest fires, rising seas and increasingly erratic weather, the United States has seen a boom in books about climate change.(Unsplash)

Worried about climate change? There's a book for that.

Reuters
PUBLISHED ON MAR 04, 2021 07:24 PM IST
Books titled “Trees in Trouble” and “How We’re F—ing Up Our Planet” scream out from the shelves of Barnes and Noble’s nature and wildlife section between reassuring tomes on hummingbirds and wildflowers.
Close
Ira Mukhoty at Bada Imambara on her recent visit to Lucknow (Sourced photo)
Ira Mukhoty at Bada Imambara on her recent visit to Lucknow (Sourced photo)

Ira Mukhoty: I want to talk about strong women of Nawabi era

By Deep Saxena
UPDATED ON MAR 04, 2021 02:43 PM IST
Author Ira Mukhoty is researching her first book on Awadh. Having penned ‘Heroines: Powerful Indian Women of Myth and History’, ‘Daughters of the Sun: Empresses, Queens and Begums of the Mughal Empire’ and ‘Akbar: The Great Mughal’, the Delhite spent about a week in Lucknow hunting down facts for her book.
Close
Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1919-2021). (Elsa Dorfman via Wikimedia Commons)
Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1919-2021). (Elsa Dorfman via Wikimedia Commons)

Essay: The importance of Lawrence Ferlinghetti

By Chintan Girish Modi
PUBLISHED ON MAR 02, 2021 05:38 PM IST
The courtroom drama around Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s publication of Alan Ginsberg’s Howl (1956), that focussed on the defence of free expression, provides a case study for contemporary writers, filmmakers, and stand-up comedians in other parts of the world facing censorship
Close
The story of that Indian-origin barrister, George Edalji, has now been dug up in detail and brought to life in a new book by London-based historian-author Shrabani Basu(Amazon)
The story of that Indian-origin barrister, George Edalji, has now been dug up in detail and brought to life in a new book by London-based historian-author Shrabani Basu(Amazon)

New book uncovers Indian mystery probed by Sherlock Holmes author

PTI, London
PUBLISHED ON FEB 28, 2021 10:27 AM IST
Arthur Conan Doyle was drawn to investigate just one real-life crime during his lifetime and it involved a British Indian man wrongly accused of a series of mysterious crimes in an English village in the early 20th century.
Close
SHARE
Story Saved
OPEN APP