Book Review: Girl Meets Boy

Perusing my way through the book shelves today afternoon at a nearby bookstore, I chanced upon a novella written by the award winning British writer Ali Smith. Having all the time by myself, I sat down to read the book. Titled Girl Meets Boy, the short novel running at 161 pages (referring to the paperback edition), is a retelling of Ovid's Metamorphoses that takes a refreshing look at homosexuality.

The original story tells the myth of Iphis, a girl forced to be raised as a boy to escape the clutches of death and later transformed to a man the night before his/her wedding with his/her lover Ianthe. GMB deals with the same aspect of sexual identity but against a contemporary setting. Anthea and Midge (Imogen) are two sisters who live in the Scottish town of Inverness.

The ambitious Midge, a namesake rebel, works for a bottled-water company Pure and hopes that her younger sister too will follow suit. Ironically, Anthea is a misfit and a rudderless ship until one day she meets Robin, a female eco-warrior. As love blossoms between the two, Midge is horrified and finds it difficult to come to terms with the fact that her sister is a lesbian (written wonderfully through a skillful use of parentheses).

Battling weight loss and constantly trying to fit herself in a male dominated corporate world, she finds solace in a colleague Paul, whom she thinks might be gay. While Anthea is candid about her partner preference, Imogen finds it tough to express her feelings for Paul (despite she being a heterosexual).

But Midge's ambitions come to a screeching halt when she is given a promotion and is made privy to the company's long-term strategy of exploitation of water resources to meet their goals. While Anthea and Robin spray the town red with slogans against gender bias and discrimination, Imogen is forced to re-evaluate herself and the people around her.

The opening lines of the book goes: 'Let me tell you about when I was a girl, our grandfather says' and immediately the reaction from me was What? Obviously it's not a typo. But this loose gender definition is what makes the book so appealing. Switching between alternate narratives of Anthea and Midge through I (Anthea's break away from corporate life and meeting Robin), You (Midge's reaction to her sister's sexual orientation), Us (Anthea and Robin's love life), Them (Midge's transformation) and All Together Now (the ending), Ali Smith crafts a beautiful piece of work that takes a wry look at the gender issues we face today.

Times may have changed, but even now, homosexuality is considered as a taboo and finds stiff resistance from an otherwise change-embracing society. Smith mentions this aspect poetically towards the end - '... the story of nature itself, ever-inventive, making one thing out of another, and one thing into another, and nothing lasts, and nothing's lost, and nothing ever perishes, and things can always change, because things will always change, and things will always be different, because things can always be different.'

At the same time, Smith takes on issues like corporate greed, consumerism and the world of advertising (a persuasive myth as she puts) effectively. Poles apart, both the characters of Anthea and Midge have been well etched. Anthea's openness is a sharp contrast to Midge's guardedness and in a sense the theme has more to do with her transformation than Anthea's. Creatively written, Girl Meets Boy is a book you will definitely fall in love with. Three cheers to Ali Smith!