Award-winning author Ali Smith again lights a way for us through the nightmarish now with a provocative novel grounded both in the contemporary era and in the uncannily familiar era of the Black Plague. Companion Piece stands apart from her astonishing Seasonal Quartet, which remains discrete unto itself. But like Smith’s groundbreaking series, this new novel boldly captures the spirit of the times.
“A woman receives an unexpected call from a former classmate asking for help deciphering a puzzling interaction, and from there, Smith spins out a broader story about loneliness, refuge and freedom." —The New York Times Book Review
"Lyrical and timely . . . Smith’s novel will push readers to consider what it means to let people into your life, even when you don’t want to.”
"A story is never an answer. A story is always a question."
Here we are in extraordinary times.
Is this history?
What happens when we cease to trust governments, the media, each other?
What have we lost?
What stays with us?
What does it take to unlock our future?
“Every hello, like every voice, holds its story ready, waiting.”
Smith's expansive and tantalizing spin-off of her Seasonal Quartet series blends stories of mythology, English history, and personal trauma. While artist Sandy Gray waits for news about her elderly father who's recovering in the hospital after an unspecified life-threatening episode, she gets a call from Martina Inglis Pelf, an assistant to an art curator and former university acquaintance of Sandy's. Pelf tells a story about a lengthy airport customs detainment upon returning with a Boothby lock and key artifact belonging to a 16th-century chest and accidentally presenting the wrong passport. Pelf thinks Sandy can decipher the meaning behind a voice in the holding room that whispered "curlew or curfew." Therein lies Smith's intricate, interlocking narratives, which involve the story of three-headed beast Cerberus, whom Sandy imagines talking with brutish police in the register of "English music-hall comedy" ("'Ello 'Ello 'Ello. Wot's all this then?"); Pelf's peculiar twin daughters; and a teenaged female blacksmith during the 13th-century black plague with mythic connections to Vulcan and Pandora and haunting parallels to the Boothby apparatus and the Covid-19 pandemic. As ever, Smith's flawless stream-of-conscious narration is at once accessible and transforming, and with it she manages to contain eye-blinking hallucinatory images, such as a shattered clock that reconstitutes itself. This is a captivating Rubik's cube of fiction.