Girl meets Boy, by Ali Smith, is from Canongate’s Myths series. It is woven around a retelling of the story of Iphis which originates in Book 9 of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Also briefly included is a story based on the early life of Lilian Lenton, a suffragette who became ill due to being force fed while in prison. How women are valued (or not) is a recurring theme, although this is far from a polemic. Rather it is a love story in which gender is merely one aspect of attraction, yet a significant one to the uninvolved who observe and then worry themselves about societal appearance.
Imogen and Anthea are sisters living in their grandparents’ house in Inverness. Their parents separated when they were young and this has coloured their relationship. Imogen stepped into her mother’s place when she was only seven years old. She feels responsible for Anthea, and frustrated when her sister acts in a way she regards as irresponsible.
Both girls work for Pure, a company marketing bottle water as an aspirational consumable. When a graffiti artist daubs the office signage with a message suggesting that selling a necessary and natural product in this way is wrong, Anthea is smitten and questions her faltering role in the creative team. Imogen is proud of her own success at the company, won by agreeing with the boss and going along with the banter of colleagues. She hopes for a promotion and is horrified by her sister’s behaviour.
Despite the brevity of the tale many issues are covered including: foetal selection by gender, eating disorders, the male gaze, expectations of women’s role in the workplace. All of this is secondary though to the happiness found in a mutual love affair. The girls may have been scarred by the actions of their parents but they were nourished by the tall tales told by their fun loving grandparents.
“it was always the stories that needed the telling that gave us the rope we could cross any river with. They balanced us high above any crevasse.”
Given that this tale is based on Metamorphoses, expect transformations. When they come their contemporary relevance is highly satisfying.
In many ways a humorous and quiet story, there are many thought provoking aspects that will linger. An enjoyable addition to a series of concise reimaginings from established and well regarded authors.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Canongate.