Canongate Myth Series No. 4
I was a she was a he was a we were a girl and a girl and a boy and a boy…..(Page 103)
The myth of Iphis is one of the happier of Ovid’s metamorphoses: on the island of Crete, Iphis is raised as a boy to avoid her father’s wrath, She falls in love with another girl, Ianthe, and with fervent desire she requested goddess Isis to change her gender. Her gender is changed by the sympathetic goddess Isis to enable them to marry. It’s a felicitous story among the accounts of rapes and murders, the agony of bodily transformation. In this modern-day reinterpretation, Ali Smith, with humour and puns and typical linguistic versatility, explores issues of homophobia, corporate and social responsibility and the sheer vertiginous feeling of falling in love.
Two sisters, Anthea and Imogen Gunn, live in the small Scottish town (it’s Inverness) in which they grew up, in a house left to them by eccentric grandparents who sailed to Europe on a whim and never returned. They had tried to pass on their brand of optimism to their granddaughters: “You’re going to have to learn the kind of hope that makes things history.”
At work, however – Anthea is temping and Imogen (Midge) is a creative consultant with Creative team at Pure, a local bottled water company run by unscrupulous executives – hope is in short supply. Midge tries to fit in, putting up with sexist male co-workers. When she came up with the perfect brand name, Midge was given a promotion. Her only real friend is Paul – which she thinks he might be gay. Diffident Anthea skulks and dreams her way through her days, until the appearance of a very attractive kilted protester trespassing Pure’s premises – eco-warrior Iphisol, aka Robin Goodman, upsets the natural balance of her life.
Robin is a mysterious, smooth-talking, desirable female boy-girl. She “had a girl’s toughness. She had a boy’s gentleness. She was as meaty as a girl. She was as graceful as a boy…” . Soon she and Anthea embark on a ecstatic relationship and a gleeful urban guerrilla rampage against women inequality and consumerism.
Midge is appalled: “My little sister is going to grow up into a dissatisfied older predatory totally dried up abnormal woman like Judi Dench in the film Notes on a Scandal” – until an urgent concern emerges in the form of a promotion at work at Pure. Having come up with the name of a new brand of water, Eau Caledonia, Midge is invited to a think-tank known as Base Camp in London, where her boss, the menacing Keith, confides Pure’s unethical long-term strategy for global domination and exploitation. Midge’s role will be to fabricate lies about the company’s intentions.
According to the World Water Forum 2000, whose subject was water’s exact designation, water is not a human right. Water is a human need. And that means we can market it. We can sell a need. It’s our human right to.
” How, precisely, do we bottle imagination?”
I often wonder too, why we have to pay so much for a bottle of water? In some countries, a litre of bottled water is more expensive than petrol or gas. I have always avoid buying bottled water unless it’s emergency.
I mean, do myths fully formed from the imagination and the needs of a society, I said, as if they emerged from society’s subconscious? Or are myths conscious creations by the various money0maming forces? For instances, is advertising a new kind of myth-making? Do companies sell their water etc by telling us the right kind of persuasive myth? Is that why people who really don’t need to buy something that’s practically free still go out and buy bottles of it? Will they soon be thinking up a myth to sell us air? And do people for instance, want to be thin because of a prevailing myth that thinness is more beautiful?
The book is divided into chapters in pronouns of I, You, Us, Them, and All of Us; narrated by Anthea and Imogen alternately. It contains a lot of Sexism and one conversation between Midge’s colleagues Dominic and Norman about off –coloured homophobic jokes, which I found quite offensive. Smith also brought female infanticide and women inequality at workplace to the surface. Smith writes about lesbian love in such a beautiful way that makes the most dissident cry. A re-telling of myth which touches on so many contemporary issues, I found this to be a masterpiece. A small book that achieves a lot. Great stuff.
“Girl Meets Boy is a glorious, wide-awake dream of a book that has, right at its beating heart, one of Ovid’s joyous Metamorphoses”. – Observer
“A short, fun read, Girl Meets Boy is full of pop culture references such as Facebook, MySpace and Google, constant reminders that our identity, politics and imagination are bound by our social mores, not by our Olympian gods.” – Meghan Ward, San Francisco Chronicle
“It is a clever use of the myth, and Ali Smith has delivered another exuberant cascade of words; the romance is described in a lyrical flood and Imogen’s part is dealt with mainly in accomplished streams of consciousness. The heterosexual romance that appears as a subplot is delineated with psychological acumen; the interest of the homosexual one is rather a type of sub-poetic torrent describing mutual bliss — two pages are taken up by synonyms for marriage. It is a creditable addition to our lesbian corpus, but perhaps suffers from having too many messages.” – Molly Guinness, The Spectator.
In which I do not agree with the last sentence.
Paperback. Publisher: Canongate 2008; Length: 164 pages; Setting: Contemporary Inverness, Scotland. Source: Library Loot. Abandoned mid-way at: 6 June 2010.
About the Writer:
Ali Smith is a writer, born in 1962 in Inverness, Scotland, to working-class parents. She was raised in a council house in Inverness and now lives in Cambridge. She studied at the University of Aberdeen, and then at Cambridge, for a PhD. that was never finished. She worked as a lecturer at University of Strathclyde until she fell ill with chronic fatigue syndrome. Following this she became a full-time writer and now writes for The Guardian, The Scotsman, and the Times Literary Supplement. Openly gay, she lives in Cambridge with her partner Sarah Wood.
In 2009, she donated the short story Last (previously published in the Manchester Review Online) to Oxfam’s ‘Ox-Tales’ project, four collections of UK stories written by 38 authors. Her story was published in the ‘Fire’ collection.