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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The Whole Story

Ali Smith

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Whole Story

Title: The Whole Story
Author: Ali Smith
Genre: Stories
Written: 2003
Length: 178 pages
Availability: The Whole Story - US
The Whole Story - UK
The Whole Story - Canada
The Whole Story - India
  • and Other Stories
  • These stories were previously published in a variety of publications

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Our Assessment:

B : striking parts, interesting approaches, but no resounding successes

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Atlantic Monthly . 5/2004 Brooke Allen
Daily Telegraph . 22/4/2003 Julie Myerson
The Guardian . 26/4/2003 Rachel Cusk
The Independent . 5/7/2003 Liz Jensen
Independent on Sunday . 3/8/2003 Lesley McDowell
The NY Times Book Rev. . 21/3/2004 Mark Kamine
San Francisco Chronicle . 21/3/2004 Ann Cummins
The Spectator . 3/5/2003 Andrew Hedgecock
The Times . 19/4/2003 Erica Wagner
TLS . 25/4/2003 Sophie Ratcliffe
The Village Voice . 22/3/2004 Samantha Hunt

  Review Consensus:

  Fairly impressed, if not always clear as to what she's up to

  From the Reviews:
  • "Her simple, economical, blade-sharp prose dignifies whatever subject she chooses, and endows even the oddest human behavior with an inarguable inner logic." - Brooke Allen, The Atlantic Monthly

  • "Yet -- and I'm still not sure how she does it -- what I really love is the straightforward, wide-open feel of her prose, its sense of possibility and space. There are no overt tricks -- just Smith's exuberant, full-on confidence in the gallop of her sentences, her unswayable determination to sweep you along with her for the narrative ride." - Julie Myerson, Daily Telegraph

  • "Smith's mastery of the sublime is God-given, but her loyalty to the ridiculous is rather more manufactured. (...) What is unsatisfying about The Whole Story is that it shows Smith capitulating to her tendency to the arch and the outlandish, while her tender understanding of human love and sorrow lies fallow." - Rachel Cusk, The Guardian

  • "But will you have read any stories ? Not stories where things happen, not stories with beginnings and middles and all that palaver. You will have read Writing, much funny, some poignant, all of it deeply, militantly unusual; a series of surreal, loosely connected fragments which somehow manage to inspire delight as well as irritation." - Liz Jensen, The Independent

  • "The quirky voices of Hotel World; the repetitive lists of sounds, feelings, actions; the focused, inner perspective; the zooming in on tiny details; the meandering off at a tangent -- all these features crop up again in this book." - Lesley McDowell, Independent on Sunday

  • "12 new stories with surprisingly long reach. (...) Smith's perspicacity and humor give resonance to the hapless and slightly mad characters who populate these stories" - Mark Kamine, The New York Times Book Review

  • "12 stories that are really pre-stories. Smith's inimitable voice and lovely description govern each story, recalling the unforgettable voice and evocative description of her novel Hotel World, but she uses a gossamer touch in the story collection, leaving the reader hungry." - Ann Cummins, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "The force of this collection is cumulative, in part because the 12 stories pass through the cycle of a year, from winter to winter. (...) (W)ith seeming effortlessness, Smith shifts from voice to voice, season to season and place to place, always putting herself -- and the reader -- in the right spot." - Erica Wagner, The Times

  • "(M)uch of the volume seems curiously arboreal. (...) For Smith, storytelling is something that takes place before, in, and especially beyond, the confines of the book. Those who might be seen as closed readers -- learned art critics, university students and shortlist compilers -- are marginalized in The Whole Story. Smith is more interested in unconventional modes of narrative engagement -- people whose stories never get heard, who rip books up, or use them as bribes or gestures of defiance, table-leg props or car-seat boosters." - Sophie Ratcliffe, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Stylistically the stories are reminiscent of Smith's fantastic novel Hotel World. They are told surveillance camera-style." - Samantha Hunt, The Village Voice

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Whole Story is a collection of twelve stories. Despite its promise of completeness, there is, in fact, no story called 'The Whole Story' in the book -- though there is one called 'the universal story' (as well as one promising 'the heat of the story'). The dozen tales also do not fit readily together to create a greater (or even truly cohesive) whole -- part, surely, of the point Smith is trying to make.
       Smith starts off well: the first piece, 'the universal story', begins haltingly, the author repeatedly looking for the place and perspective to begin her story from -- a clever beginning. The unlikely centre of the story -- a woman who builds a boat out of copies of The Great Gatsby -- is cleverly nestled several layers in, and the story nicely wrapped closed at the end.
       There are imaginative ideas throughout: an encounter with death, a deep infatuation with a tree, a woman confessing having a second relationship (and the surprising admission her partner makes in response). There are striking effects throughout, right to the last story, 'the start of things' which begins nicely: "It was the end and we both knew it." Several of the stories use the second person -- though these different yous lose their effectiveness.
       There's an odd mix of realism and fantasy. Some of the stories nicely mix surreal and real: in the bookshop-tale, 'gothic', the clientele is described matter-of-factly -- the ones who literally piss in the True Crime section ("We called the urinators the Gothics"), or the prostitutes. The longest story, 'paradise', offers several episodes, including an attempted hold up at a burger place and a Loch Ness cruise: small scenes from contemporary Scottish life.
       Smith tries a number of approaches in her stories. She doesn't forget about telling actual stories, but throughout there's a preoccupation with what to relate, as she wonders -- often aloud ("What do you need to know about me for this story ?") -- about what is significant and what not. The choices she makes are (fortunately) not always the obvious ones.
       These stories are solid enough, and yet there isn't quite enough to them. They seem more like playful (if quite accomplished) exercises than substantial fictions.
       The Whole Story is probably of some interest to those who enjoy the short-story form; others might be somewhat disappointed.

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The Whole Story: Reviews: Ali Smith: Other books by Ali Smith under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary British fiction at the complete review

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About the Author:

       British author Ali Smith was born in 1962.

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© 2004-2012 the complete review

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