Saturday, 31 March 2012

Does your world need shaking up?

The Accidental, by Ali Smith

What we have here is a family of four who each need a good shaking.  Isolated and with a callous disregard for one another, they bleakly continue to breathe, but not much else.  Eve, the mother, is so engulfed in the formulaic fiction that she writes and makes a good living from, that she is intellectually, sexually and emotionally exhausted.  She suspects she is a fraud, but makes no attempt to connect with any of her family members, including her son who has locked himself away in a bedroom, suicidal.  She doesn’t notice the state he is in.  Her husband Michael, an academic, thinks the boy should be reprimanded for being somewhat impolite to a dinner guest, but otherwise, he could care less about the child.  Michael is concerned that his career has not progressed further, blaming that on his failure to secure a summer home in a more fashionable area, rather than on his spectacular disregard of his university’s policy on predatory sexual relationships between professors and students.
These parents have been so superficial in their child rearing that their only value passed on to Astrid, Eve’s daughter, is that of snobbery.  These three are all disappointed with the summer home that has been rented so that Eve can escape from demands created from her newfound popularity.  But the house doesn’t live up to its advertisement, and Astrid seems to feel this more keenly than the others.  She shrinks back from all of the furnishings, labelling them as ‘sub-standard’, and worse: “Old people have licked the furniture with their dead tongues and ingrained the banister all the way up the stairs with skin flakes off their old hands.”  She shuns the ‘oiks’ in the local village, and lives through the lens of her camera.  The boy, Magnus, is in the process of hanging himself when he is interrupted by the fifth character, a mysterious woman who has wandered into the house, uninvited.  Each adult assumes the other has invited her, and as communication is poor…  She is the catalyst that explodes their lives.  Is she  amoral and sociapathic, or an angel with bare and dirty feet?  Using this book for literature therapy won’t provide easy answers, but The Accidental will make you think about the extent to which we should value order, conformity and responsibility.  

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