“What a story it could be”: Identity and Narrative Strategy in Ali Smith’s Like

James Bailey


Remarking upon its dual narrative structure, muddled chronology and conflicting accounts of past events, Ali Smith described her debut novel Like as “a nasty warring book, a book of two sides” (qtd. in Murray 222). The connection made here between the “warring” nature of the novel and the opposing narratives that constitute its “two sides” is crucial, and reveals that the conflict described by Smith relates as much to Like’s fragmented structure as it does its content. Indeed, the “warring” that takes place in Like occurs not only in its various settings – the bedrooms, dormitories and theatres in which its protagonists, Amy and Ash, witness their carefully concealed relationship bloom and wither – but also between its contrasting sections, each narrated from a different point in time. What is at stake in this war of words is the memory and legacy of the love once shared between the novel’s now estranged protagonists: a love which is brought proudly to the forefront of Ash’s personal account of the past, yet is largely absent from the third person, present tense narrative that constitutes Amy’s section of the text. Offering the reader a series of readings (and re-readings) of events and encounters in this way, Like reveals itself to be a novel concerned with the strategies behind storytelling, with the memories one might artfully preserve, discard, embellish or invent when fashioning a version of one’s history and, in turn, of oneself.


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ISSN 1749-9771

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