There but for the, by Ali Smith

It was one of those rare december break mornings; one where I actually woke up with the burning sensation (rather, a pounding heart attack) to get a start on my holiday homework because oh lord why is there always so much work. Knowing that staying at home would eventually lead to languorous inactivity, I wiggled into those faded jeans, slipped on that pair of rainbow colored espadrilles, grabbed that grey-felt-enclosed laptop, and made my way out to the library.

The national library is in the middle of town, an enticing haven in the midst of all the hustle-and-bustle. The hushed silence of the Study Room provides an environment for conducive working (make so much as a single loud footstep and a dozen heads will snap up and glare for an infinitesimal moment and flick back down to their pressing work). Strictly work, no leisure. But of course my resolve slowly dwindled and I found myself walking past Bras Basah, stumbling across those 2-for-$5 second-hand bookshops, and ending up at home with two new-old books in hand.

There but for the.

Strange, quirky title that leaves much more to be desired. Quite like the book itself. Ali Smith has a strange writing style; all at once quirky and yet conversational, choppy and yet cohesive. It is chocked full of witticisms and puns – some seriously good laugh-out-loud play on words happening there.

I must admit – I didn’t quite like her style. The occasional lack of punctuation, disjointed sentence structures, and confusing syntax just didn’t appeal to my taste. But let me emphasize- simply my taste. The fact that I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as I should’ve doesn’t take away the artistic genius of it. The atypical structure was no doubt a stylistic choice on Smith’s part, and somehow it compliments her quirky wit. One simply has to admire her unnatural charm. The cherry on top of the cake.

‘There but for the’ is split into four sections – each with a different narrator, and slowly reveals and picks apart the fabric of connections that unexpectedly tie these characters together. It presents a somewhat touching and endearing story of personal connections – Smith somehow manages to be philosophical (this book is full of character self-reflection, that somehow walks the fine line of relatable approval without crossing into clichéd borders) and charming at the same time.

This book is not for everyone. I must admit (with some degree of chagrin) that it was quite a struggle for me to get through, simply because it lacks a real, solid plot, and more than half the book is written in parenthesis. But if you’re willing to stick out a limb and try something new – then this is there but for you to try.

Published by ruruhoong

Part-time economist, writer, tanguera. Full time glutton.

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