Against The Current


Scottish writer Ali Smith’s third book, The Whole Story and Other Stories, behaves like a nonchalant teenage girl in black-and-white who has just unearthed a Technicolor secret—heart aflutter inside an unaffected tundra. In “Scottish Love Songs” two women are haunted by bagpipers who enter their homes and toot day and night. Faced with this annoying oddity, one character straightens pictures on the wall while the other wonders whether she’ll have to clean up after the pipers, both relying upon the domestic to stanch memories of their lost loves—missed chances Smith has scored into the mournful piping.

Stylistically the stories are reminiscent of Smith’s fantastic novel Hotel World. They are told surveillance camera-style. The point of view in a lover’s argument switches cameras from Lover A to Lover B. “The Universal Story” begins with a man who lives by a churchyard, switches to a woman who lives by a cemetery, to a bookshop owner, to a fly within the shop who is “sponging with her proboscis the picture of the actors Robert Redford and Mia Farrow on the Penguin 1974 edition of The Great Gatsby,” to the book who recalls its numerous previous owners, to a man filling the backseat of his Mini Metro with copies of The Great Gatsby, arriving at (finally, breathlessly) the artist who is making a boat from the used copies of Fitzgerald’s novel. “Boats against the current. Borne back ceaselessly into the past. Get it?” she asks. Yes, we do.