No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Thursday, December 27, 2007

#76: Girl Meets Boy -- Ali Smith

"Let me tell you about when I was a girl, my grandfather says."

Which is a first line to pull me in and keep me reading if ever there was one. I loved The Accidental, and Ali Smith is just as playful here and a sight more light-hearted. The myth she's chosen is Iphis and Ianthe, from Ovid's Metamorphoses: Iphis, a girl-child left out to die, is raised as a boy, falls in love with the beautiful Ianthe, prays to the gods on the night before her -- his -- her wedding, and becomes a man in truth. Plenty of meat there (as it were) for a feminist interpretation, but Smith goes further.

Anthea (named after Anthea Redfern, poor lass) falls instantly in love with an ecological activist named Robin, who is wearing a kilt and defacing the corporate logo outside Anthea's place of work. Robin has the swagger of a girl, she blushes like a boy, she turns boys' heads like a girl, she turns girls' heads like a boy. She reduces Anthea's sister Imogen to speaking, thinking, in parentheses and lacunae -- "(I am sitting in the same room as a )". I'm not sure Imogen ever articulates the word 'lesbian' but that's what Anthea has become. And not just that: she rejects her employers, a multinational corporation who are in the business of bottling water. Anthea is all about fluidity and freedom, and water should be free.

Smith's writing is glorious, playful and fluid and inventive, full of the grand gestures and unlikely juxtapositions of myth: full of transformations and redemptions and change.

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