Monthly Archives: December 2012

41st Discussion: Ali Smith’s There But For The

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Timmy wrote:

This week’s discussion was held at The Pigeon Hole as Raj was admitted into hospital with stomach ulcer (Get well soon!). Thank you to new attendees Andrew and Muslim for joining us this month.

Opening Words

We kicked off the discussion asking everyone’s thoughts on the book. Amit and Har are still reading the book. Amit found the book strange yet interesting, as well as very mysterious as it focuses more on the other characters. Har is appreciative of the novel’s suspense, and found the book anecdotal. Both Isaac and Andrew – the number 1 Ali Smith fanboys – liked the book too. Isaac enjoyed the witticisms and the puns. Both Timmy and Nicole thought the book is funny.

Alexius, however, didn’t particularly like it, feeling that the book was too tedious to be read and was not interesting.

Title

“What does it mean? Why did the author decided to name the book as such?” asked Aaron.

According to Andrew, Ali just decided to name it like that because she “quite liked the phrase.”  He went on: “It doesn’t mean much, but (it) can mean things for other people.” The rest of us just nodded our heads as we didn’t know what else to make of it.

Prologue

Isaac viewed the prologue as a modern fable, concerning youth and the passing of youth. He further elaborated that the man confronting his younger self might even be Miles himself. Alexius felt that this part caught his attention. He thought that the relationship between the boy and the man was never stated, and speculated that it could be alluding to paedophilia.

Short stories

“What’s the point of including them?” Aaron asked.

Alexius felt that the story itself did not hold much context, hence the short stories were add ons to beef up the book. Nicole, meanwhile, thought that the stories contributed to the characterizations. Aaron viewed them as reflections of art, and alluded to Miles’ quote to Brooke. Alexius referenced Jackson Pollock.

Dinner party

Har thought the entire scene was banal, though Timmy felt otherwise. He thought that the entire chapter perfectly captured the mood of the party very well, which Andrew agreed with.

Themes

During the discussion, we briefly touched on death and growing old (Aaron/Isaac); bullying, surveillance and the British system (Isaac); technology (Aaron); philosophy (Alexius); and modern life (Andrew).

We pondered on whether it is better to be cleverest, or cleverist. Aaron felt that the book did not achieve that.

Favourite characters

Amit liked Mark because we are able to glimpse into his thoughts. Aaron described him as hot, although Timmy begged to differ.

Miles was the hot favourite for this discussion, being liked by Isaac, Har, Nicole and Andrew. Brooke followed in second, with votes from Aaron, Andrew and Timmy. They found her precocious and lovable.

Alexius liked the boy in the prologue, describing him as “significant”.

Least favourite

Isaac found Genevieve pretentious and irritating.

Har started disliking Miles after he locks himself in the room.

Alexius cited the man in the prologue as his least favourite.

Last words

Isaac described the book as an anti-novel, almost like giving the middle finger as to how a novel should be written. Har intends to finish reading it, as he appreciates the writing style. Andrew remains as Ali Smith’s fanboy and described the book as a biting social critique of the harsh celebrity life. Nicole said she will have to read till the end; she does, however, like the characters and the tricks Smith employed throughout her novel.

At the other end of the spectrum… Amit remains indifferent to the book. Alexius, however, still finds it boring post-discussing the book, declaring it as too “textbook” and stylistic. He doesn’t plan on continuing reading it. Ernest too didn’t like the book, finding the wordplay too hard to comprehend, and the overall style as being too chunky and dry.

Aaron declared the interactions between Miles and Brooke to be magical, though in closing the discussion, he felt that overall it wasn’t a fruitful one. “The novel is indubitably technically brilliant but it either went over our heads and we couldn’t understand it, or it’s just meaningless that we cannot extract meaning out of it.” Oh dear.

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