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.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

"the first person and other stories" by Ali Smith (Penguin, 2008)

The same (often gender-free) voice speaks in many of the stories. The roles of storytelling are displayed - telling tales; understanding self by identifying with a character in a narrative that may be self-created; learning by making and interpreting stories; listening to stories others make about you; making up stories that are told sequentially or one inside the other.

The narratives are presented as plays, musicals, films, books, stories and personae. The medium (CD, etc) and act of observing (the cinema, etc) matter. The characters don't define themselves by job, role, nationality, etc. Even their relationships are unstable. Instead, they embed themselves in the narratives, recontextualise themselves, re-interpret the stories.

  • "true short story" - a story containing another story which contains quotes about what the short story is.
  • "present" - 3 in a pub. One leaves to sit in her car, imagines a story involving the 3 of them.
  • "the third person" begins "All short stories long". Stories flow into each other.
  • "fidelio and bess" describes a story, a performance of a story. How do the characters interact with the story? Do they identify with the story's characters? Do they re-interpret the story? "Culture's fixed, you say .... Fidelio's all about revision, I say"
  • "the history of history" - a mother and daughter don't get on. The daughter talks to her friend about mad mothers. "I'm nothing like you", the daughter says to the mother.
  • "no exit" - A performance - at a cinema this time. Then "I know a story about that fire exit down there". One story inside another - how do the stories map onto each other?
  • "the second person" - people making stories about each other, misrepresenting.
  • In "Writ" a mother wants to give advice to a daughter. Both are having crushes. At the end there's someone outside. "I love you, he shouts, or she shouts, hard to tell which ... You hear that we both say at once."
  • "astute fiery luxurious" is a story told within a story, the frame as substantial as the contents. Again we're invited to find correlatives.
  • "the first person" (the final story) begins "This, though, is a new you and a new me". Later, "You're not the first person to spin me a yarn".

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