On the First Day of Christmas, My True Love Picked an Awesome Present for Me

There but for the by Ali Smith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The fact is, this book makes me cry.

The fact is, this book is about being trapped by history. Or herstory. Yourstory and mystory. It’s a mystery, mystory.

The fact is, it’s brilliant (and infectious) the way Ali Smith plays with language. Puns, jokes, double entendres.

(The fact is, although I scold myself for the hours I’ve spent watching the racy and historically irresponsible series The Tudors, I wouldn’t have caught the reference to Thomas Tallis had I not watched the show before I read this novel.)

The fact is, the book itself is a history trap. You start where past and present meet, move through the story, and circle back again.

The fact is, the characters in this story are trapped because they can’t let the past stay behind them, nor can they let the past and the present coexist. The past keeps intruding, unbidden, catching them by surprise because they refuse to see it. They can’t move forward because they keep circling back.

The fact is, one man finds a way out by shutting himself in until he’s traveled far enough in his little room that he’s ready to circle back and look his past in the eye.

The fact is, once a person can look the past in the eye and accept that it’s all the same—past, present, future, all beneath our feet in this moment—once a person can do that, she is free.

Or at least that’s what I took away from this book. That and comfort with a few more vocabulary words.

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(To clarify the title of this post, my husband picks books for me, checks them out from the library, wraps them, and puts them under the tree. Then he takes the kids on field trips so I have plenty of time to read. This year, he found this book for me. I’d never heard of it, but I loved it. Several years ago he introduced me to Haruki Murakami. Last year it was Joshua Ferris and Marisha Pessl. He doesn’t read much fiction himself, but he’s great at picking it for me.)

3 Replies to “On the First Day of Christmas, My True Love Picked an Awesome Present for Me”

    1. Thank you, Zoie! I had to correct that last part, though, because when I first published it, I called Joshua Ferris “Jonathan” Ferris (probably because there are so many other Jonathans, like Safran Foer and Franzen). Now that I think about it, though, I’ve never read any Jonathan Franzen. Perhaps I’ll make that a New Year’s resolution.

      I hope you like the book, but I won’t be offended if you don’t. It seems to be a “love it or hate it” kind of book. I just happen to be in the first camp. It’s possible it’s just because I spent the better half of my time at college writing in stream of consciousness, and I just like the idea that someone post-Virginia Woolf and James Joyce might be able to publish a novel written largely in stream of consciousness. More likely, it just hit me at the right time. These are exactly the “issues” I’m addressing right now.


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