Sunday, April 12, 2009

Girl Meets Boy

I was not aware of the Canongate Myths Series until I read Rhinoa's - and then Nymeth's - review of this book, which, as per just about every one of their reviews, quickly persuaded me I absolutely had to read it. Who could resist that double-whammy? I'm glad I couldn't, at any rate.

The book is inspired by, rather than based on, the gender-bending myth of Iphis as described in Ovid's Metamorphoses. Told in alternating points of view by two sisters, Imogen and Anthea, the novel focuses on their concurrent experiences of enlightenment. Imogen has pulled strings to get her sister hired at the company where she works, called Pure. Anthea doesn't much care for her job or the people who work there (aside from her sister), and one day she finds herself falling in love with a young woman who calls herself Iphisol, whose personal anti-corporate, anti-Pure campaign includes spray-painting enormous signs that decry the company's policies.

Imogen works hard at Pure and, while she doesn't appear to care much for the petty politics of the place, she is ambitious and feels that she has a future there. The sudden discovery that her sister is a lesbian shakes her world view substantially. Directly on its heels comes a work-related discovery that makes her further re-evaluate her assumptions.

This is a thoughtful novel, with characters who change and develop substantially throughout the course of a rather short book. I found myself caring very much about both of them, and rooting for them as they made their way down unfamiliar paths. I particularly enjoyed following along with Imogen's thoughts as she tries to come to terms with the fact that her sister has suddenly fallen madly in love with a woman. She is horrified and upset and worried, but the love she feels for her sister comes out as Imogen struggles to understand and accept the new situation. Here is some of what goes through her mind as she's out for a run, with all her worries swirling around in her mind.
(I am not upset. I am fine.)
(It'd be okay, I mean I wouldn't mind so much, if it was someone else's sister.)
(It is okay. Lots of people are it. Just none that I have known personally, that's all.)

(My little sister is going to grow up into a dissatisfied older predatory totally dried-up abnormal woman like Judi Dench in that film Notes on a Scandal.)
(Judi Dench plays that sort of person so well, is what I thought when I saw it, but that was when I didn't think my sister was going to maybe be one of them and have such a terrible life with no real love it it.)
(My little sister is going to have a terrible sad life.)
(But I saw Robin Goodman lean my sister into the hedge with such gentleness, there is no other word for it, and kiss her...)
There are no quotation marks in this book, which made it hard for me to fall into the story as easily as I usually do. I kept having to go back to figure out who had spoken, and who had replied, and all that tended to throw me out of the story. I became more used to it as the book progressed, but as I read it became clear that I have become a traditionalist and no longer find the stream-of-consciousness format as appealing as I did years ago. It seems to call attention to itself and the story as a construct, which is no doubt interesting on an intellectual level. But it interfered with my all-encompassing sinking-into-the-story experience. That is a very minor complaint, however. I loved the strength, compassion and humor in this tale, and I will be interested to read other books by this new-to-me author.

Girl Meets Boy by Ali Smith (Canongate, 2007)

Also reviewed at:
Adventures in Reading: "The end of the book is sensational and develops the idea of metamorphosis as not only being personal but also being political and social."
Rhinoa's Ramblings: "This was a beautiful story. I adored it so much and have been telling everyone I know to read it. It has the most unusual and moving sex scene I think I have ever read in a novel."
Things Mean a Lot: " I loved the way she explored gender in this story – the way we perceive it, the way others perceive it, the ingrained sexist practices that are still seen as natural by so many."


  1. Geez! Would you people stop ganging up on me with this book! I'm getting it already :p

    Oh, and just to put a smile on your face, I've been using the library like CRAZY this year Darla :)

  2. I've been hearing about this book and this author just everywhere I turn! And I have the same problem as you: I find stream-of-consciousness books a bit hard to follow. I've been trying to decide whether I want to read this...

  3. I rarely can resist their "double-whammy" (or in this case- triple-whammy) reviews either lol. I might have to see about getting this!

  4. I have wanted to read this book for a while now, but the library doesn't have it! I am going to have to wait until I get a chance to buy it!

  5. I'm really glad you enjoyed it too, Darla! Wasn't it amazing how she managed to pack so much character development into such a short book? I tend to have problems with stream of consciousness books too, but for some reason Ali Smith's works for me.

  6. Chris - teehee! I know you will love this book. And you did put a smile on my face! I'm glad you are putting your library to good use. That is what we are here for. :-)

    Jenny - I honestly got used to it after that initial struggle, and the story was so good that once I got into it, I hardly noticed it. If the book appeals to you except for that, I'd urget you to give it a try. There are sentences that are punctuated properly and everything (thank heavens); it's just the quotation marks that aren't there.

    Ladytink - I hope you like it! You all have such a huge influence on what I read these days, and I have to say I very rarely read a book that I don't enjoy as a result! In fact, the rare stinkers tend to be ones I just pick up off the library shelf at a whim, and if I really don't like them, then I don't even bother with a review. Why prolong the agony?

    Kailana - I hope you get to read it soon!

    Nymeth - Absolutely. She did a great job with those characters, and as I said to Jenny, I did grow used to the stream-of-consciousness thing after a while because the story and characters were so compelling. Thanks so much for the recommendation!

  7. For such a short book it really does make an impact. I am glad you enjoyed it so much and managed to get used to the style in the end. I bought it for my mum for Mothers Day and must chase her to make sure she finds time to read it! I loved The Accidental by Ali Smith as well, but it's a bit of a strange one. I look forward to reading some of her short stories soon.

  8. Rhinoa - It certainly does make an impact. I'm so grateful to all these great reviews and recommendations of books that I'd probably never hear about otherwise (particularly as ensconced in kids' and YA lit as I am, as a children's librarian). I'll be looking forward to your thoughts on the short stories!

  9. I first read about this on Nymeth's blog - I knew I wanted to read it. But now I've decided to read all the Canongate Myth books. I really need a vacation to catch up on all the books I want to read :)

  10. Joanne - I love the idea for this series, and I'm interested in trying some of the others some time soon. You are right - a reading vacation would be lovely! :-)


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