Ali Smith’s novel, There But For The tells the story of Miles Garth who locks himself in a strangers guest room at a dinner party gone wrong. He hardly communicates with anyone except for little notes, and nine year old Brooke. One of the things that I found interesting about this novel was that the story focuses on Miles, but it is told in the perspective from the people around him, who themselves have had minimal interaction with him.
Through all of these characters you are able to see little reflection of the character of Miles. You see that he is a generous person who lives to make the lives of everyone around him easier and make them happy. For Anna he was her friend on a school trip when she isolated herself. For Mark he was a friend who would discuss musicals and attend dinner parties with, May Young he visited her every year on the day of her daughters untimely death, and for Brooke he listens to her and helps her through her teacher bullying her. These reflections of character are all shown through these outside characters that help to tell the story of Miles, who we never hear his own perspective events. The only time we see anything form Miles it is through small pieces of writing, the story he wrote for Brooke, a note to Mark, a note to May, and the story that he won the contest with that allowed for him to meet Anna.
For me the lack of communication with Miles, and not being able to hear directly from him was frustrating. I deeply enjoyed this novel, but I wish that there was more information provided about Miles. The facts we know are introduced subtly, so upon my initial reading I did not pick them up. For example I originally missed the key point of Miles being sexually molested about his grandfather. On page 166 Jennifer tells May Young about Miles’s grandfather, “He said when he was small, Jennifer says, and his grandfather was still alive, his grandfather would have him to the tunes off the soundtrack record he had at his house of the Mary Poppins film.” I do not know how I originally missed that piece of information. It took me reviewing the novel to realize what was being said. The facts that we learn about Miles are all second hand, which sometimes can be frustrating and confusing. I think though that this provides a better view of his true character. In writing classes it is always said, “show don’t tell” this is a perfect example of that. We are shown Miles true character rather than told he was a nice guy. That would make for a far less interesting story, rather than the weaving together all of these narratives in order to get a feel for Miles character.