COMPANION PIECE Ali Smith
Like most of Ali Smith’s work, this book starts out at a level where things seem straightforward, but it ends up elsewhere, like a stone rolling zigzag gathering meaning from unlikely places like a thick coating of moss. The narrator, Sandy Gray, a visual artist and wordsmith, reconnects with an old acquaintance during the beginning of the pandemic and her life becomes insanely--and comically—complicated. (There are a couple of teenagers who might have come out of a Kafka novel.) All this while she’s worrying about her hospitalized father. Concrete as these situations are, the life of the mind plays constantly around the edges, in the form of books, words, etymology--meaning in its many senses. And, too--perhaps because the pandemic leaches the reality out of life--the question of what’s real looms large in the novel, like the fairy “photographs” that feature in the story. Birds, companionship, the origin of vagabondage, the hovering presence of the past: the novel manages to touch on and make us think about a number of unexpected things, from an angle that makes them new.
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Published: Pantheon - May 3rd, 2022