Companion Piece by Ali Smith 2022
One of the difficulties I have with contemporary fiction is that authors frequently treat time, space, and person in bizarre and often unpleasant ways. Time frames shift without warning; characters may be real or imaginary; settings are exchanged with frequency and in ways that I have trouble understanding. Enter, ;Companion Piece; which has many of those features but I loved it, probably because Ali Smith is one of our greatest story tellers, and above all, this novel is filled with stories.
Listed by the New York Times as one of the “18 New Works of Fiction to read this Spring” and by Literary Hub with 9 raves, ‘Companion Piece’ is not a straightforward, Jane Austenish novel. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell who is narrating, or what is real and what is imagined, or how the various story lines fit together, but at the end of the day, Smith’s ability to make words come alive pulls it all together. The book starts with a strange phone call from Martina Inglis Pelf who was a distant acquaintance of the primary character, one Sandy Grey (male, female, other? is not clear until late in the book) when they were in college. Pelf’s family ends up occupying Sandy’s home to avoid COVID in their own house while Sandy moves into her father’s home since he’s in the hospital with a serious cardiac condition. Along the way we encounter a brilliant piece of Middle Age iron craft, the young woman blacksmith branded with a V for vagrant who might have made it, and the conundrum of curlew vs. curfew. Well, you get the idea. Okay, that’s not very helpful, but I don’t have enough room here to flesh out this story line.
Read the book. You’ll find it to be fascinating, engaging, and worth the effort.