Sunday, 12 June 2011
The First Person and other stories
Title: The First Person and other stories
Author: Ali Smith
Number of pages: 224
Started: 11 June 2011
Finished: 12 June 2011
There were two men in the café at the table next to mine. One was younger, one was older. They could have been father and son, but there was none of that practised diffidence, none of the cloudy anger that there almost always is between fathers and sons. Maybe they were the result of a divorce, the father keen to be a father now that his son was properly into his adulthood, the son keen to be a man in front of his father now that his father was opposite him for at least the length of time of a cup of coffee. No. More likely the older man was the kind of family friend who provides a fathership on summer weekends for the small boy of a divorce-family; a man who knows his responsibility, and now look, the boy had grown up, the man was an older man, and there was this unsaid understanding between them.
I stopped making them up. It felt a bit wrong to. Instead, I listened to what they were saying. They were talking about literature, which happens to be interesting to me, though it wouldn’t interest a lot of people. The younger man was talking about the difference between the novel and the short story.
The novel, he was saying, was a flabby old whore.
Distinguished by Smith's trademark ability to unearth flashes of truth and depth in the everyday, The First Person and Other Stories sparkles with warmth and humanity. In one story, a middle-aged woman conducts a poignant conversation with her fourteen-year-old self. In another, an innocent supermarket shopper finds in her trolley a foul-mouthed, insulting, yet beautiful child. And in a third story that challenges the boundaries between fiction and reality, the narrator, 'Ali', drinks tea, phones a friend, and muses on the surprising similarities between a short story and a nymph...
What I thought:
I don’t generally read short stories, so this is not a very familiar genre to me. It was a book made up of a range of tales, looking at every day events, and drawing the detail, or more surprising aspects, out.
It was well written, and not only told some good tales, but also reflected on the nature of writing and what makes people tick. A good read.