Thursday, December 22, 2011

There but for the

Ali Smith's novel 'There but for the' (2011) is set in Greenwich, where a guest turns up for supper, locks himself into a spare room and refuses to leave. Middle class dinner parties are a bit of an easy target, and the hosts conform to every stereotype, talking of 'Upgrading to Blackheath...soon as the market picks up sufficiently' and being too worried about their vintage interiors to take decisive action like kicking the door down.

But not all the characters are so one dimensional or unsympathetic, I liked the wise-before-her-time child who wanders the streets of Greenwich bamboozling strangers with her intelligence. There's a discussion about the Cutty Sark which chimes with my concerns about the ersatz heritagisation of Greenwich: 'The child assures Jan that the ship will definitely be reopened to the public as soon as they remake it because nowadays you can do pretty much anything including remake something historic after it's burned down'.

Greenwich Park and St Alfege's church also feature in the novel, as does the foot tunnel: 'The Thames is brown and green today. It changes what it is every day. No: every minute. Every second. It is a different possible river every second, and imagine all the people under the water walking across to the other side and back to this side in the tunnel right now, because under the surface there is a whole other thing always happening'.

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