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Smith, Ali 1962–

Smith, Ali 1962–

PERSONAL: Born August 24, 1962, in Inverness, Scotland; daughter of Donald and Ann Smith; partner of Sarah Wood, since c. 1993. Education: University of Aberdeen, M.A. (with honors), 1984, M.Litt., 1985; graduate study at Newnham College, Cambridge. Politics: "Left." Religion: Roman Catholic. Hobbies and other interests: Cinema, music, art.

ADDRESSES: Home—Cambridge, England. Agent—David Godwin, 55 Monmouth St., London, England WC2H.

CAREER: University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland, lecturer in Scottish, English, and American literature, 1990–92; freelance writer, 1992–.

AWARDS, HONORS: Booker Prize shortlist, 2001, and United Kingdom's Encore Award for outstanding second novel, 2002, both for Hotel World; Whitbread Award for fiction, and Booker Prize shortlist, both 2005, both for The Accidental.


(Editor) Poems, Plays, and Prose of J.M. Synge, Everyman (London, England), 1992.

Free Love and Other Stories, Virago (London, England), 1995.

Like (novel), Harcourt (New York, NY), 1998.

Other Stories and Other Stories, Granta (London, England), 1999.

Trace of Arc (play), Faber (London, England), 1999.

(Editor) Brilliant Careers: Virago Book of 20th Century Fiction, Virago (London, England), 2000.

Hotel World (novel), Anchor Books (New York, NY), 2001.

The Whole Story, and Other Stories, Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 2003, Anchor Books (New York, NY), 2004.

The Accidental (novel), Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 2005, Pantheon (New York, NY), 2006.

Author of the unpublished plays Stalemate, The Dance, and Comic. Contributor to the Scotsman.

SIDELIGHTS: Ali Smith is a Scottish fiction writer whose work "consists of narrative nests, tales within tales," according to London Review of Books critic Justine Jordan. Smith's short fiction collections and her first novel, Like, established her as a promising young author in the British Isles. According to Jordan, her short stories "refine the connections between action and import, moment and significance."

Smith's story collections include Free Love and Other Stories and Other Stories and Other Stories. The author is particularly interested in tales that are "told by way of other stories," and her second collection makes wide and inventive use of the narrative-within-a-narrative. Jordan wrote: "In most of Smith's stories one event sets off a glancing chain of associations that lead to a new perspective on a universal fact and a sea-change for the narrator." Jordan added: "At the same time, with their unresolved endings, inexplicable details and dropped stitches, these stories mimic the low-keyness of the real: the language is consciously unliterary, the subject matter is determinedly ordinary, recording the minor peaks of unremarkable lives—a holiday, a flirtation, the kindness of a stranger." Jordan noted: "Every one of these stories is an accomplished miniature."

Like has found readers in both the United Kingdom and America. The multi-sectional tale revolves around three women: the emotionally and physically unsettled Amy Shone, Amy's long-suffering daughter, Kate, and the vibrant Aisling McCarthy, whose passion for Amy has been a factor in the mother-daughter turmoil. "The real treat here is … Smith's mellifluous prose and wonderful rendering of the relationship between mother and daughter," noted Barbara Hoffert in Library Journal. A Publishers Weekly contributor concluded: "Smith's writing, at its strongest, is unhurried, perceptive, tender and graceful. This is a skillful portrayal of three unusual women who bring to their lives more questions than answers." Jordan described Like as "richly allusive," maintaining that the novel "is proof of [Smith's] ability to retain the delicacy and precision of her short pieces in a more complex and extensive work."

Smith's next novel, Hotel World, was described as "a heartfelt and introspective ghost story" by Lisa Nussbaum in the Library Journal. The story revolves around the death of a chambermaid named Sara Wilby. As she narrates the story, Sara watches her own funeral and then hangs around the hotel trying to make sense out of life and death and commenting on a variety of characters. "Hotel World is not a novel for reading in stolen snatches in public places," warned Claudia FitzHerbert in the Spectator. "It demands first to be read aloud—there are voices which have to be heard to be heard—and then to be read again—the story, insofar as there is one, pulls you round in the sort of circle which only begins to take shape when you've walked it more than once."

In her third novel, The Accidental, Smith tells the story of the upper-class British Smart family who spends a vacation in a less-than-ideal English countryside house. The family has more serious problems, however. The mother is a writer suffering from writer's block, while her literature professor husband is cheating on her with his students. The teenaged Magnus is guilty of committing a prank that led to a girl's suicide, and his sister is disturbed by bullying at school. When Amber Mac-Donald shows up at the country house door one day, however, the Smart family undergoes a dramatic change. Allison Block, writing in Booklist, called the novel "mesmerizing." In a review in Entertainment Weekly, Jennifer Reese noted that the author "pulls it off with terrific pizzazz." New Leader critic Tova Reich particularly enjoyed "Smith's dazzling verbal display."

Smith has also continued to write short stories and presents twelve of them in her collection The Whole Story, and Other Stories. Her tales include an encounter with death in the form of a BBC newsman, a woman falling in love with a tree, and two women getting kicked out of church on Christmas Eve. Referring to the collection as "playful and imaginative," Hollins Critic contributor Kelly Cherry remarked: "In direct, conversational sentences, the stories seem to spin themselves out effortlessly, expertly moving through a range of emotions and taking us to unforeseen places or conclusions." Cherry went on to call Smith "an excitingly unrestrained writer, smart and engaging." Spectator contributor Andrew Hedgecock concluded: "There is much to admire in these eccentric and complex stories in which the quotidian teeters on the brink of enchantment, chaos and despair."



Booklist, December 1, 2005, Allison Block, review of The Accidental, p. 27.

Bookseller, June 7, 2002, "Scottish Arts Council Picks 15,000 Pounds Sterling Winners," p. 6; February 17, 2006, "Bestseller by Design: There Has Been Nothing Accidental about the Sales of Ali Smith's Latest Novel," p. 15.

Entertainment Weekly, January 13, 2006, Jennifer Reese, review of The Accidental, p. 83.

Hollins Critic, February, 2006, Kelly Cherry, review of The Whole Story, and Other Stories.

Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 2003, review of The Whole Story, and Other Stories, p. 1421.

Library Journal, July, 1998, Barbara Hoffert, review of Like, p. 138; December, 2001, Lisa Nussbaum, review of Hotel World, p. 176.

London Review of Books, July 1, 1999, Justine Jordan, review of Other Stories and Other Stories, p. 33.

New Leader, November-December, 2005, Tova Reich, review of The Accidental, p. 45.

Publishers Weekly, July 20, 1998, review of Like, p. 209; March 1, 2004, review of The Whole Story, and Other Stories, p. 51; September 12, 2005, "Man Booker Nominees," p. 8.

Spectator, October 13, 2001, Claudia FitzHerbert, review of Hotel World, p. 60; May 3, 2003, Andrew Hedgecock, review of The Whole Story, and Other Stories, p. 40.

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