There But For The

This was honestly one of my favorite books that we read in this class and I guess, subconsciously, I saved it for last. What struck me post about this book was its structure. I love books and movies that are told from different perspectives. You get a rounder view through other people’s lenses and what is most fascinating about that kind of structure in terms of this book is that we never get Miles’ perspective, yet the entire book is about him- he is the main character. We get this round sense of who Miles is, where he comes from, and the people he interacts with- yet we never get the opportunity to be inside his brain, to hear his thoughts.

The biggest question (and one that stays unresolved) throughout this book is why did Miles choose to lock himself in Gen and Eric Lee’s guest bedroom? While there is no definite answer and you’d probably have to get in contact with Ali Smith to find one, I’m going to make my own hypothesis here. From what we’ve gathered about him through this book and is that he is a person willing to talk to anyone and he makes people come out of their shells. He brought Anna into the “popular” group on their trip and took her from being an outcast into being surrounded by people. He talked to Mark once and he was invited to a dinner party. He always made sure to visit the mother of his dead friend Jennifer on the anniversary of her death. And he made quite the impact on Brooke and made her feel important. All of these examples say a lot about his character and the kind of person he was and so I don’t think he locked himself in the bedroom to be a burden, I don’t think he did it for attention… I think he did it to make people look differently at their lives.

When Anna receives the email telling her that Miles is locked in the guest bedroom and can she please help!, she starts thinking about Miles and remembers that he was the one that pulled her out of her awkward, introvert nature and made her enjoy her time on the trip, surrounded by people. He challenged her way of thinking: “He is very witty, and definitely clever; he is probably one of the ones on this trip who are going to Oxford or wherever it is they’re all going. But he doesn’t sound rich or like he goes to a posh school. Also, he has already really made her laugh.” (page 43) He introduced her to kids, he wanted her to sit next to him, he retrieved her passport for her so she could leave if she really wanted to. This is someone that made an impression on her entire trip and changed the way it could have been. For Mark, Miles was someone he met and was immediately drawn to. Mark was invited to this “interesting people” dinner party and knew immediately that he would feel more comfortable if Miles was there because Miles had a way of putting people at ease. May was an old woman that he visited every year on the same day because her daughter meant something to him and he left an impression on her life, the way no one else could have. And finally, Miles made Brooke feel like it was a good thing to be smart and to be clever and this was something that was beaten into her brain by her teacher as being a bad thing. This girl needed to find Miles, and thus Anna, to know that being clever was a really good thing to be.

So, where does that bring us? As readers, I think we’re a little disappointed that there is no resolution as to why Miles locked himself in the bedroom. In this time, we all crave the resolution of anything we read and watch. But that’s why I think this book is so brilliant- there is no resolution. One day Miles just decides to leave and he does. Everyone camped outside his window think he’s still there and Gen is refusing to let them think otherwise. But we never find out WHY. I can’t answer that question, I can only hypothesize. I think it was an effort to change everyone’s thinking and to be that eye-opener. But, truly, it’s for the individual reader to ponder.

In terms of this class, it ties in because it takes place several times in Greenwich, which is a really important part of London’s history and the idea of Englishness. This place is the 0 degrees longitude and is, for many obvious reasons, an important historical location for London. I think it was an interesting book to read because Ali Smith, a female writer, changes the structure of the novel and encourages writers to think differently, like Miles does.

I found an interesting video on Ali Smith’s speech on “Form Vs. Content: How authors should approach the task of writing a novel today.” She’s a feisty woman who is really interesting to listen to and expands the way a novel was written.

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One thought on “There But For The

  1. Lauren, I enjoyed reading this post! I liked your reference to London being like “multiple levels of time existing in a single space.” I also liked the reference to the idea of spatiality experiences. Your expression of your own personal experience bubble and how we interpret what happens in places far away from that bubble is very interesting. “It’s a strange concept to think about and even more so convey, but the idea is that things do continue to happen and change even when they are outside of our own personal range.” This idea is similar to ones I have referenced myself. The concept of the change that we notice when we have not been to a place that we know well is hard to grasp prior to a trip such as ours.

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