There but for the

Ali Smith
Hamish Hamilton

There but for the is the new novel from Ali Smith, best known for her acclaimed fiction including The Accidental, Hotel World and Girl Meets Boy.

The premise of There but for the is simple but disturbing. One evening a London couple throw their “annual alternative dinner party” where they invite different people from their usual crowd around for dinner and conversation. Throughout the course of the evening one of the guests, a relative stranger called Miles Garth, disappears upstairs and locks himself into the a spare room and won’t come out. Questions start to arise – who is Miles? Why has he locked himself in the spare room? How long will he be there?

There but for the is a surreal and often funny novel about identity, memory and thinking. Those familiar with Smith’s work will be used to her trademark literary experimentation. There are no speech marks in the book, which has the effect of blurring the lines between the different perspectives; a device that some will find original, but others may find distracting. Smith can write beautifully, but her style is an acquired taste.

Rachel Hazelwood