Review: Girl Meets Boy

Nobody grows up mythless… It’s what we do with the myths we grow up with that matters. — Ali Smith, Girl Meets Boy

Girl Meets Boy by Ali Smith
161 pages
Published by Canongate, 2007
Genre: Fiction
Re-readability: After I read Ovid’s Metamorphoses Book IX, I’d love to come back to this one.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed by Pete

Spoiler-free review

This is my fourth Ali Smith book I’ve read in the last four months, and it may be my favorite work of hers. I’d say that Girl Meets Boy is a good book to start with, but you really can’t go wrong with her.

Girl Meets Boy is a modern reimagining of Ovid’s myth of Iphis from Metamorphoses Book IX. It’s a part of Canongate’s Myth series, which features retellings of myths from a handful of authors (the most notable book in the series is Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad).

Despite its ambitious premise, Girl Meets Boy is anything but pretentious. Smith never writes down to her readers. She gives the reader a helpful summary of Iphis’s story when one character summarizes the myth for another. Smith manages to write this in a way that is both helpful and thematically relevant to the novella. She avoids coming off as heavy-handed by going all in on this scene when the characters begin to joke about the parallels of their own lives and those of Iphis and Ianthe—which in a way is Smith making fun of her own story.

The story follows two sisters, Imogen and Anthea, who work as copywriters at a bottled water company. Their ideals are fundamentally opposite, as are their personalities. When Anthea starts dating a local graffiti artist who calls herself “Iphisol”, Anthea and Imogen’s differences are brought to the surface.

Smith takes on several themes in this short book — the global water crisis, gender dysphoria, the power of language, and homophobia, to name a few — and she pulls it off without losing control of the story or the reader’s attention.

This may be a short book, but it is ambitious (and successful in its ambitions). Fortunately, my Ali Smith reading streak will not be broken by this brilliant novella.

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