Fiction Addiction
Book news and reviews with Bronwyn Sell and Christine Sheehy

Fiction Addiction: [Not] There But For The

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Photos / Supplied
Photos / Supplied

This was supposed to be the blog in which There But For The author Ali Smith answered all the questions that you, dear readers, so carefully crafted for her.

But I'm afraid Ms Smith has become media shy - or perhaps always was - leaving all your lovely questions hanging around, feeling unanswered and awkward.

Don't take it personally. It's not us, it's her. Usually authors with newly released books pop up in every second media outlet in the western world. Smith has given very few interviews since the book was released last month.

Still, I would have particularly liked to have read her answer to Helena of New Lynn's contribution: "How do you deal with a guest who does not want to leave a party you have hosted?"

All is not lost. We will save the less-specific questions for next month's authors, and we can summon an apparition, at least, of Smith from secondary sources.

Perhaps she's simply been too busy since the book was released. A few days ago she appeared at the Edinburgh Festival.

A short report on the festival website quotes her lamenting - with a laugh - that she will never again be invited to a dinner party.

There But For The - one of our two August feature reads - begins when a guest at a dinner party in London pops upstairs as dessert is being prepared. Only later do the hosts realise that he's locked himself in an upstairs bedroom. Months go by and he remains there, a silent presence - and yet an absence - from the lives of others. The book tells intertwining stories about some of the people with whom he's connected, and the effect his exile has on them.

We could read a lot into a quote from an interview Smith gave to The List, the guide to the Edinburgh Festival: "The importance of quiet lives in celebrity culture looks like an anathema but they're not, because the removed and private person will be the most fascinating to the most number of people."

Yes. Take Harper Lee, one of the most famously reticent authors in history. She wrote one novel, To Kill A Mockingbird, published in 1960. It won her the Pulitzer Prize and became one of the most revered books in American literature. But she has hardly ever spoken publicly about it. Now aged 85, she remains an enigma - and thus a fascination for people all over the world.

And why not let the book speak for itself? Novelists tend to spend most of their working lives in isolation, wrestling internally with their creations. And then, upon the release of a book, we expect them to hatch fully formed into witty and entertaining public speakers and media putty.

I'm not saying that Smith is the recluse that Lee is. But it's damn hard to find any interviews with her. It's telling that in one of the few she has given about There But For The, to the Scotsman newspaper, she says:

"The world is asking us more and more to skate really fast across its surface. The book says we can do otherwise. We can go and sit quietly in a room and contemplate the good. It's a question of withdrawal, of stopping and thinking, of having nowhere else to go."
Well said. And I can imagine that answering questions from a bunch of strangers on the other side of the world would not be conducive to that.

We'll just have to let the book do the talking. Christine and I will post our reviews of both of our August feature books over the next couple of weeks.

And don't forget to check in on Tuesday when we announce our August Fiction Fix hotlist of new novels, and our September feature reads, as well as launch our new competition.

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