Rob Brunner
September 28, 2011 AT 04:00 AM EDT

There But For The

type
Book
Current Status
In Season
author
Ali Smith
publisher
Pantheon
genre
Fiction

We gave it an A-

There But For The, Ali Smith’s weird and wonderful puzzle of a fifth novel, is ostensibly about a dinner-party guest who locks himself in a spare bedroom and refuses to come out, inadvertently sparking a media frenzy. But the book — packed with jokes and random facts — is really about small stuff like life and death and the meaning of human existence, all told with sharp humor and real insight. The novel itself is a riddle with no solution, which is exactly the point: When you reluctantly come to the end, you can’t help going back to the beginning, trying to unravel this beautifully elusive book’s mysterious spell. A-

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