November 26, 2012

Ali Smith's Like

The novel LIKE by Ali Smith starts out as the story of a single mother barely holding together a life for herself and her seven-year-old daughter in a caravan (trailer) park in Scotland. It ends up somewhere rather different.

I loved the first half of this book. The mother and daughter are both fascinating characters, and their interactions are full of great details. I especially enjoyed the scenes in the daughter's point of view, which wonderfully capture what a child does and doesn't notice in the world around her.

The first half drops many intriguing hints about the mother's past, and as the story goes on, the reader starts to figure some things out and grow even more intrigued about the things that haven't yet been explained. The second half provides some insight into the mother's life before the daughter, but it left so much of the mystery unaddressed that I was unsatisfied and also puzzled, wondering if I missed something.

Overall, I did like LIKE. But I was disappointed by the way the story set up big secrets, seemed poised to provide illumination, and then failed to deliver. This is definitely a case where there's a disconnect between what the writer wanted a book to do and what I wanted from it as a reader. Still, the novel is beautifully written, and Smith is highly skilled at creating characters, so I'm looking forward to reading more of her work.

Thanks to Sally for recommending, lending, and then discussing this book. It's a good one to discuss after reading, and our conversation did help to satisfy some of what I was missing at the end of the story.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ Geraldine Brooks confesses her book-organizing system in People Of The Bookshelf: "It's impossible for me to place one book alongside another without thinking about the authors, and how they would feel about their spine-side companion. I arrange my shelves as I would seat guests at a dinner party." (Thanks, The Millions!)

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