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Book Review: ‘Companion Piece’ by Ali Smith

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Book Review: 'Companion Piece' by Ali Smith


COMPANY, Ali Smith


In a devastated pandemic and after Brexit UK our narrator Sandy Gray, who is not at all gray in character, although in her current state of personal and political despair she may feel, receives an unexpected call from one Martin Pelf, a former Martin Inglis acquaintance from the university, who was recently held at the border checkpoint for seven and a half hours, an officer annoyed by her dual citizenship (“Is one country not enough for you?”), and Martina calls to share this with Sandy and ask Sandy a question – and so begins Smith Smith’s 18th book. a magnificent novel “Companion Piece”.

Martin was detained and interrogated during the transportation of the century-old Boothby Castle to the museum where she works. “It’s really beautiful,” says Martin Sandy. “It’s also really tricky. Looking at it, you can never say that it is even a lock or that it has some mechanism, do not even understand how and where it contains the key to open it. Which, of course, is a wonderful description of this novel, which in itself is a castle made by a blacksmith, that is, A. Smith, demanding in the engagement he requires, and rewarding it for the engagement, if you choose the words she used to build it .

In fact, Martina called Sandy, choosing a lock of words, because, stuck alone in that room at the border control, she hears a mysterious voice. “Curfew or curfew – it is written – you choose.” Martina can’t stop thinking about it. What can this mean? At home she lies in bed, confused. But she has no one to talk to. Her husband, well, her husband, she uses this term in a way that makes Sandy suspect “some sort of quarrel with the inadequacy of marriage”. As for her children: “Who would laugh. The second one would call me cis terf, and I, apparently, am ”.

So Martina turned to Sandy. “You sounded very good, as if you knew what a verse meant,” says Martina. “You just knew what they meant.” And Sandy, surprised and a little suspicious, is not disappointed. “There’s a choice,” she tells Martina, puzzled over it, sinking into herself. “The Koran is a bird, and the curfew is the time of day after which people are officially forbidden to go outside.” She continues, groping her way. “And when we think about the proposed choice, the heat or curfew, between nature and the authoritarian formation of time, which is the invention of man. … – Martin stops her contentedly. “You haven’t changed a bit,” she tells Sandy. And Sandy blushes without, she tells us, knowing why.

Curl or curfew. You choose. From these words arises the structure of the novel, which is divided into three parts. In the first called “You Choose” Sandy struggles with despair. Her father is ill. The whole world seems to be sick too. Sickness is not just Covid: the disease of hatred, injustice and oppression is spreading everywhere. “I didn’t care what season it was,” Sandy tells us. Smith’s previous four novels were a quartet named after the seasons, and we hear Smith in Sandy as she continues, “All my life I’ve loved the language, it was my protagonist, I’m his eternal faithful companion.” But now “even words and all they could and could not do” are disgusting. Sandy is an artist who loses faith in the power of art in a severe age.

But the history of the castle has revealed something in Sandy, she understands, and her thoughts are carried back to the past: hours ago, years ago, decades ago. She recalls a university where she played with people of both sexes, which “was considered very cunning at the time, though not as cunning as just being gay, which I probably was,” and where she met young Martina, beaten by poetry and desperate, desperate for help, what-n. As Sandy emerges from these daydreams as she walks through the woods, she realizes she’s lost: numb, alone, not knowing where to go. But she suddenly feels she has a choice. “What I knew was my own absence. What I felt, clear as unbroken air, was a ghost of chance, a different presence. ”

The second part of the novel, called “Courles”, takes as a constant theme the freedom and motif V that is formed when we make our simplest drawings of birds. The title of each of the sections (“Goodbye, hello”, “History against lies”) explores the winged possibilities of opposition. And in these sections we learn that Martina disappeared after talking to Sandy, that Martina’s children think that Sandy’s affair with their mother, that they feel that Sandy destroyed their family, that they wander and believe she carries a certain responsibility for their mooring. They arrive at her house as refugees, and Sandy, who wants them gone, doesn’t have the strength to evict them, and so they start occupying, they stay. They are hiding. “So what if something or someone goes wrong or spoils a picture I’ve been working on for over a year?” Sandy reflects on these refugees in one of the fascinating radical passages that break out so vividly in this radical book. “There will always be more paint. I could start again. “

In “You Choose” we have the “ghost of chance”, and in “Curl” really is a ghost in the form of a strange girl with a curl, who appears in the house of Sandy. We’ll find out who she might have been in the last part of the Curfew novel, where she struggles with the constraints we place on each other. It tells in part about a girl who may have been involved in making Butby Castle and in the distant past studied to be a blacksmith. A blacksmith is an elderly woman who owns a smithy and does a great job, but dies suddenly, leaving a talented girl vulnerable to men who want a smithy for themselves. The chick keeps her company through the horrors that her world is preparing. In the end, she is arrested and marked as a tramp: the mark of the letter V, a mark once made by the girl herself, is heated and burned in her flesh. In those days it was a mandatory punishment because the poor were not allowed to roam Britain as they wished: the workforce was immobile by law, registered and tied to the place as poor people from the global south are registered and kept tied up today. But the girl, now branded, wanders on. The bird does not leave her.

“I will not tell you what happened to the girl in the end,” our narrator tells us, “unless she went the way of all the girls.” And these days, Sandy, walking her father’s dog, best of all, that her father is still in the hospital, meets a girl on a bicycle who met Sandy’s father during his daily walks with the dogs. The girl asks him after him and “goes fast like a swift.” But then she stops and turns. She sees Sandy. And she calls her, hello. Hi, stunning, at the end of this wonderful novel, in your hope and opportunity.


Mohsin Hamid’s fifth novel, The Last White Man, will be published this summer.


VIOLATOR | Ali Smith | 230 s. | Books on the Pantheon. | $ 28.

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