Just every now and then you read a novel that really does knock your socks off. This one is so experimental and off the wall that it genuinely astonishes. Ali Smith's textual fireworks are amazing. There's a section written in sonnet form (the character's whole life has turned to poetry) and most of the narrative is stream of consciousness, inside the head stuff though refreshingly written in 3rd person. And it convinces. Each character's thought process is unique. Only the central character - the hub around which all the others revolve, is missing from this. We see Alhambra/Amber from every point of view except her own. She is a Mystery. But she is also a magical, healing, and sometimes destructive, force.
The family is in deep trouble, though they are all in denial. They have taken a holiday home in Norfolk and are playing at happy families. But the step-father, Michael, a university lecturer (or more accurately lecher) is running away from complicated affairs with his students; the mother, Eve, is trying to pretend that she is writing a book, but is suffering from writer's block; the son, Magnus, is suicidal because he believes he has caused the death of a girl at school; and the 12 year old daughter, Astrid, has withdrawn into a silent, obsessive world because she is being bullied. No one is telling anyone anything.
Until a young woman walks through the door and takes up residence. The family are so dysfunctional no one asks anyone else whether they have invited her. And once Amber has her feet under the table nothing can ever be the same again. She is both the maggot in the apple and the good genie in the lamp - handing out wishes.
This has to be one of the most original novels written in the last decade - the pyrotechnics are wonderful, but its unconventional nature makes it very difficult to review. On Amazon readers either thought it 'wearisome drivel' or 'the best thing I've ever read.... this book will change your life....' For me it's a clever, post-modern exercise in playing with traditional ideas of narrative and a good example of prose poetry. The writing is so original I was always hooked enough to read on. The Accidental really deserved its Orange Prize listing and Ali Smith deserves to win a whole shed load of prizes!