Adventures in Reading

Ali Smith’s Girl Meets Boy
December 31, 2007, 7:27 pm
Filed under: book reviews, fiction

“Let me tell you about when I was a girl, our grandfather says.”

After enjoying Jeanette Winterson’s Weight, I could not resist picking up another book in the Cannongate Myths series and I delved into Ali Smith’s Girl Meets Boy: The Myth of Iphis. While reading Winterson’s book I did occassionally refer to Bulfinch’s mythology, but I already had a fairly good grasp on the story of Atlas. However, Iphis (or so I thought) was a new one to me. I discovered Iphis must have been a fairly popular name as Bulfinch refers to a separate myth [1] than Ovid’s tale in Metamorphoses that Smith retells.

Iphis (a gender neutral name) was also born to humble parents, but Iphis was born a female and to save her life Iphis’ mother raised her as a boy. Iphis and Ianthe, another girl, fell in love and were to be married. The goddess Isis who had told Iphis’ mother to raise her as a boy intervenes and changes Iphis into a man.

It took me awhile to warm to Smith’s story (in retrospect I can only blame my own confusion on what myth was being retold), which is a story of metamorphosis, love, political action, and civil disobedience. Imogen and Anthea Gunn, two sisters, live in Scotland and work at the Pure water bottling company. Imogen represents following (if not pursuing) social norms and is shocked when her younger sister falls in love with Robin. Robin has dedicated her life to political awareness and meets Anthea after spray painting world fresh water statistics on the Pure sign.

The chapters go back and forth between the sisters, but I did find Imogen’s chapters fascinating as half of these chapters are told in parantheses as she constantly second guesses herself and pushes herself to a perceived standard of social expectation (which includes her realization of being bulimic at the end of the novel). The end of the book is sensational and develops the idea of metamorphosis as not only being personal but also being political and social. So far I absolutely adore this series and cannot wait to pick up another (that or start rereading Ovid and Bulfinsh and do some of my own reinterpreting!).

While these stories are works of fiction and by contemporary authors I have found all of them located in mythology. This of course is appropriate, but if I had not stumbled across Smith’s book on a shelving cart I probably would never have discovered the series.

[1] From Bulfinch: “A young man of humble parentage [Iphis] who hanged himself at the door of the noble lady Anaxarete because she rejected his love.”

Also reviewed by Feminist Review.



What is the Greek quotation at the beginning.?

Comment by John Trager

John Trager: What Greek quotation?

Comment by bookchronicle

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