The audio version of The Accidental is made especially memorable by the excellent ensemble cast that reads it. Each of the actors has been expertly chosen to read the thoughts and experiences of one of the four members of the Smart family and the young lady who “accidentally” enters into, and radically changes, their lives. And as is almost always the case, I have to wonder how differently I have reacted to the audio book version of The Accidental in comparison to how I might have reacted to the written version of the book. The readers are that good.
The Smarts, a London family living in a Norfolk cottage that they have rented for the summer, are a family coming apart at the seams at the beginning of the novel. Michael is a university professor who spends more time trying to seduce his female students than he does in educating them. Eve, his wife, is a second-rate novelist who specializes in re-creating the lives of people who were killed during World War II by changing the circumstances of their deaths so that they survive the war and she can then relate the lives that they would have had in her alternate world. Magnus is Eve’s 17-year-old son by a previous marriage who is obsessed and devastated by his inadvertent part in the suicide of one of his fellow students. And Astrid is the couple’s 12-year-old daughter who is just on the verge of becoming a young woman but is not quite ready to make that leap from girlhood. The four are so self-absorbed that they barely speak to each other.
But all of that changes when a 30-something-year-old young woman appears at their front door with the story of a broken-down car. Amber manages to get inside the house and lets everyone assume that she has been invited there, Eve assuming that Amber is one of Michael’s students, and Michael assuming that she has been invited by Eve. The children immediately take a liking to the intruder and, in fact, Amber soon becomes the first lover that Magnus has ever had. It takes a while, but eventually it is Eve who realizes just what an accomplished liar and fake Amber really is. She demands that Amber leave their rented home, suffering a black eye in the process, but the family finds that they have been changed forever as a result of their exposure to this strange person who has touched them all.
Ali Smith has an unusual writing style in which she uses the “streams of consciousness” of the individual characters to display exactly how each of them perceive what is going on around them. The reader sees the same events from several points-of-view and eventually gets a clear understanding of what is happening to the family at the hands of this strange person who has invaded their home. That style is an intriguing one and it has led me to find a copy of Smith’s earlier book, Hotel World, for later reading.
Rated at: 3.0