Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Thursday, 17 May 2007

"Free love and other stories" by Ali Smith (Virago, 1995)

Don't be deterred by the first 2 stories, things improve - she takes language with her when she soars. For the most common character type a moment of respite from stress triggers a flight response - a trip to the toilet ends up with hitching a ride to Brighton; a cycle ride leads to a visit to a prostitute. When previously unadmitted thoughts have a chance to be made manifest, they blossom, though not in ways that makes return impossible - the narrator's partner/family aren't confronted. The straying characters are lucky in who they meet: thoughtful lorry drivers, old ladies in supermarkets, interested waitresses - no wierdos.

In "The unthinkable happens to people every day" a man goes off the rails only to be saved by a chance meeting with a little girl. In her world he's a star, associated with a popular TV program. Again, the internals of the change (in this case a recovery) aren't shown.

Most of the couples are imminently breaking up. The collapse will be sudden because it's already happened internally. Like cartoon characters running on thin air beyond the edge of the cliff, it's just a matter of time before realisation sinks in. But sometimes the shock is unforseen, unprepared for. In "Cold iron" a character searches for fragments of a suddenly shattered past, trying to make meaning from lists and souvenirs.

The lyricism comes mostly from how the phrases are sequenced, how sentences tumble into succeeding one, rather than the words themselves. Here's the start of "Cold Iron" which is an exception.

What can I tell you? The sea and the snow and the wind.

Earth and then grass and then snow settling on the grass. Snow choking the narrow gravel paths, nestling into the neck and filling the stone eyes of a praying angel, silently mittening the leafless branches of trees,

There's a lot of realism, though books and words begin to pollute the world in "Text for the day" and "The World with love", and there are more dreams than I'm used to nowadays.

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