2nd Discussion: Ali Smith’s Boy Meets Girl (15 Oct 2009)

1. Timmy and Aaron liked the novel very much, but not Isaac as he has read Smith’s other work. The discussion went on as Isaac eyed a handsome man in striped shirt and pants while Timmy liked a boy in white tee. Aaron, seated between Timmy and Isaac, was at a vantage point and could see both the man and the boy but could not decide whom he liked better, proving and disproving two theories at once: men cannot multi-task and Aaron is a slut.

2. Characters: Timmy noted that the characters are not clearly described, to which Aaron argued that since Smith’s purpose is to write a myth, the characters are written in a generic and archetypal manner, instead of being specific.

Timmy’s and Aaron’s favorite is Imogen–who is named after a heroine in Cymbeline which, shamefully, none of us has read it–because she is tragic, realistic, human all too human while Isaac voted for the idealistic and dreamy Anthea Gunn, the blooming flower in war.

All disliked Dominic, Norman and Keith although the novel directs readers to hate Dominic and Norman more because of their homophobia. Keith, being the boss, is willing to sellout to homos, which is the reason why Aaron thought Keith is more detestable for his ambition of world domination. Timmy thinks that the villains don’t seem real but Aaron has many ex-friends like that. Obviously, Aaron was hanging out with the wrong crowd.

However, all agreed that we don’t really hate Dominic, Norman and Keith as Smith is very sympathetic to her characters; she does not demonize them, allowing no space for readers to hate the villains, which is the moral of the story: “SPREAD THE LOVE.” Isaac commented that the reason Smith writes is to make the world a better place and Aaron said “That’s not a bad reason at all.”

3. Style:

a. Isaac remarked on the similarity of styles between Jeanette Winterson and Ali Smith. Aaron cautioned that this style could either be poetic or sound like an emo 14-year-old. Fortunately, Smith falls on the better side of the equation.

b. The narration is equally stunning. For instance, the opening sentence: Let me tell you about when I was a girl, my grandfather says.

c. Timmy observed that the brackets used in Imogen’s narration represent her inner thoughts. Issac pointed a significant passage in which Imogen decides to voice out her thoughts (so the words are repeated, first in brackets then without) and Imogen’s partner, Paul, says she says it too quietly. For Anthea’s narration, a story is said twice, first in an imaginative way then in a more realistic way. This repetition is important.

d. Repetition: not only are Anthea’s stories repeated, like myths are passed down from generation to generation, Timmy noted the cyclic nature of the narrative: starts with Granddad and ends with him. Anthea mirrors her granddad in vandalizing to advance women’s rights; Imogen, the Burning Lily in their anorexia. Timmy sees the repetition as hopeful; as events are repeated, improvements are made.

4. Themes/Motifs:

a. Words/ Repetition/ Myth: Aaron believed that the repetition is closely linked to the attention Smith pays to words. (The author brings up several times the importance and power of words.) The first narrative, Aaron argued, is usually mythic, fairy-tale-like and imaginative, showing how words have the power to bring things into being; this is closely connected to performativity notions of Judith Butler whom Smith quotes as an epigraph. Words, as the granddad in the story says, give us hope, make myths, cause changes. Isaac very shrewdly pointed out that while there are good myths, there are bad myths too: the advertising, represented in the novel, is a form of bad myth-making, made to deceive.

b. Time: Events which happen in the past are narrated in present tense, while present event in past tense, demonstrating not only the cyclic nature of time but also the mythic eternal.

c. Water: Aaron berated himself for not seeing the metaphoric possibility of “water,” the product that Pure Corporation, the company in the novel, is selling until he read the acknowledgement page, saying that “water is bent.” Aaron saw water as a metaphor for its fluidity like the myth of Iphsis. Also, he said this very smugly, “water traps and frees Imogen: trapped because she works for the company, frees because of a symbolic action when she is given a glass of water by Robin, Anthea’s partner.” In this sense, water takes on a connotation of baptism. Isaac added that the importance of the scene when the Corporation is thinking of advertising slogans: the executives could not give a coherent marketing, depicting how volatile water is, and how difficult it is to pin water down. In the wise words of Isaac: “Water is water.” This difficulty to pin down water, this ability to live with the ineffable, is crucial because it is the point of the story.

d. Love – Jaded Aaron nitpicked, complaining that the love depicted in the novel is too miraculous, not realistic, transforming Imogen so suddenly. Isaac claimed that the novel is about love and hope, about making the world a better place, so even if it seems forced, there is a point. Or in Isaac’s words: “But isn’t love transformative?” Aaron suspected that Isaac was masking his quixotism behind the sardonic tone.

Lastly, we all drank Starbucks, something Smith may not approve.

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Filed under Ali Smith, Lesbian, UK

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