There but for the

There but for the

Book - 2011
Average Rating:
Rate this:
There but for the is the sparkling satirical novel by bestselling Ali Smith 'There once was a man who, one night between the main course and the sweet at a dinner party, went upstairs and locked himself in one of the bedrooms of the house of the people who were giving the dinner party . . .' As time passes by and the consequences of this stranger's actions ripple outwards, touching the owners, the guests, the neighbours and the whole country, so Ali Smith draws us into a beautiful, strange place where everyone is so much more than they at first appear. There but for the was hailed as one of the best books of 2011 by Jeanette Winterson, A.S. Byatt, Patrick Ness, Sebastian Barry, Boyd Tonkin, Erica Wagner and Nick Barley. 'Dazzlingly inventive' A.S. Byatt 'Whimsically devastating. Playful, humorous, serious, profoundly clever and profoundly affecting' Guardian 'A real gem' Erica Wagner, The Times 'Eccentric, adventurous, intoxicating, dazzling. This is a novel with serious ambitions that remains huge fun to read' Literary Review 'If you liked Smith's earlier fiction, you will know that she enjoys setting up a situation before chucking in a literary Molotov cocktail then describing what happens' Sunday Express 'Wonderful, word-playful, compelling' Jeanette Winterson 'Smith can make anything happen, which is why she is one of our most exciting writers today' Daily Telegraph 'I take my hat off to Ali Smith. Her writing lifts the soul' Evening Standard
Publisher: London, England : Hamish Hamilton, 2011.
ISBN: 9780241143407
Characteristics: 356 p. ;,23 cm.


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment
Apr 21, 2014

I found this book incredibly appealing. Through snippets of stories and various perspectives, Smith shows the ignorance, prejudice, differences and social habits to which we are all attuned but which we mostly choose to ignore.
What struck me most was the silence as a common theme and how the quiet or silent characters are the ones who have the most effect, the central being of which is Miles and his strange action. Ultimately, this book is about quietness and what it can open up: everything from Gen's greediness to Josie's generosity, from Mark's kindness to Anna's re-connectedness with the past, from Brooke's young, open curiosity to May's old, questioning wisdom.
Not an easy story to follow, but one that will keep readers dreaming and thinking.

hazel161 Feb 17, 2014

So delightful, so sunny and mordant, such a fresh way to tell a story. I loved every character. Yes, even the hostess. I read this as an audiobook, and it is wonderfully voiced. I am trying to give this 5 or 6 stars, whatever full marks is, but the program is resisting me.

patienceandfortitude Apr 15, 2013

Before I read this book I was told that an entire book club of 10 people hated it. Not exactly encouraging, but although I feel a bit like a freak, I really loved this book. The characters and premise are charming and wonderful. It is really almost worth reading twice because I feel like I'm missing some of it on the first read. The general premise is a guest at a dinner party locks himself in a room and refuses to leave or to speak to anyone. The book is built around the other guests and other people in the locked in man's life. Fascinating -- really.

Dec 28, 2012

I almost abandoned this book many times during the 275 pages but hung in there with the conviction that it would all come together and make sense before the end. Sadly, I admit that I'm just not clever enough to ascertain what the point was so ended up hugely disappointed with it.

Jun 14, 2012

This story of a man who stays at a dinner party may be good, but I personally could not get into it.

Jan 28, 2012

An insightful and darkly comic look at modern society.

ksoles Sep 30, 2011

What would you do if, in the middle of a dinner party, one of your guests rose from the table, went upstairs and locked himself in your spare bedroom? Ali Smith presents such a scenario in her latest novel: in spite of coaxing from bewildered hosts and confused guests, Miles Garth refuses to leave Gen and Eric Lee's guest room and communicates only through notes he delivers under the door.

As a media frenzy ensues, a cast of characters from "Milo's" past emerges to shape the author's four chapters. Forty-something Anna Hardie met Miles in 1980 on a European Grand Tour; gay sexagenarian Mark Palmer, whose late mother speaks to him in verse, tried to pick Miles up at a Shakespeare festival; elderly dementia sufferer May Young benefited from Miles' help with grieving for her late daughter; and precocious ten-year-old Brooke finally breaks through to Miles with her wit and cleverness.

"There But For The" contains exquisite and heartbreaking scenes written in experimental, kinetic prose. Themes of time, isolation and identity provide a thought-provoking read and the non-linear story line engages the reader's intellect. However, Smith often overtaxes the narrative with exaggerated stream-of-consciousness, which distracts the reader from the plot's tension. Dialogue between characters tends toward the precious and inauthentic, filled with puns and double entendres. Brooke, especially, with her references to classic literature and obscure erotica, comes across as a literary tool as opposed to a genuine personality.

Age Suitability

Add Age Suitability

There are no age suitabilities for this title yet.


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.


Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings


Find it at Library

To Top