I kind of discovered Ali Smith’s work by accident. I was looking for something to read, and decided to try out a few of the Man Booker shortlisters from 2014. The minute I started How To Be Both, I knew I was going to be reading more of her work.
Boy Meets Girl was as eloquently beautiful a narrative as I could have hoped, and one of the most powerful modern reworkings of ancient myth I have yet encountered. It retells Ovid’s narrative of Ianthe and Iphis, the former transformed by gods into a boy in order to marry the woman she loves. Smith cleverly relocates the story in contemporary Inverness, where two sisters – Imogen and Anthea – battle with their own identity crises.
The tale is one of transformation and the empowering potential of change. In that sense, it is a joyous, riotous and rebellious narrative, which celebrates our capacity to change ourselves, the community around us, and ultimately the world we live in. It’s also a story about the power of stories – of the way in which, in order to grasp the opportunities that change brings, we hold onto narratives as a way of bridging the gap between our former selves and our new identities. But no one says that better than Smith herself, so I’ll finish this review with a quote from Boy meets Girl:
“… it was always the stories that needed telling that gave us the rope we could cross any river with. They balanced us high above any crevasse. They made us be natural acrobats. They made us brave. They met us well. They changed us. It was in their nature too.” (160)