I don’t think I can quite express how much I love this book. I first read this book in 2010 and I fell in love with it then. As a 16 year old, finding this book, a book that I identified so easily with I was captured and I have since read it once a year – it’s no stretch to say that this is one of my favourite books of all time. Every time I read this book I love it a little more, and in different ways. This time I took a bit longer to read it, rather than devouring it in one sitting and I’m not sure if that was the right thing to do but I decided to approach this a bit differently this time around as it was being read for the Classical Readalong.
Unlike reading The Odyssey before re-reading The Penelopiad, I don’t feel that reading The Metamorphoses altered my enjoyment of Girl Meets Boy. It didn’t change my opinion, it didn’t change how I approached it or how I interpreted it – maybe it’s because I was familiar with the myth of Iphis prior to my reading of The Metamorphoses. A lot of people say this book is just a long poetic ramble, and it is, but I love it.
A peeve of mine first; I hate it when people call Ali Smith a ‘lesbian novelist’ because she’s so much more than that, why should that be all she’s known for? Yes, she writes women and female-gayness so beautifully and believably. It’s no lie that yes, she does write primarily lesbian women but I dislike how that’s all she’s ever credited with. So yes, this book is a lesbian romance of sorts, but I don’t understand why the word ‘lesbian’ has to be so bold – I long for the day where it’s simply a romance. This book is so much more than a simple love story though, there are very different levels to it.
When you blend Greek mythology with lesbianism, the mix is sure to be enchanting, and this book proves it. Based on the myth of Iphis, this book talks about girls and boys, girls and girls and everything in between. The book is set in modern-day Scotland, so yes, we don’t have goddesses performing sex-changing miracles. Actually, the character who stands in for Iphis, Robin, is not transgender just simply androgynous with a gender-neutral name. When Anthea (which sounds a little like Ianthe) meets her, she thinks at first sight than Robin is a boy, but she is soon proven wrong and quickly falls for this mysterious girl.
“She had the swagger of a girl. She blushed like a boy. She had a girl’s toughness. She has a boy’s gentleness. She was as meaty as a girl. She was as graceful as a boy. She was as brave and handsome and rough as a girl. She was as pretty and delicate and dainty as a boy. She turned boys’ heads like a girl. She turned girls’ heads like a boy. She made love like a boy. She made love like a girl. She was so boyish it was girlish, so girlish it was boyish, she made me want to rove the world writing our names on every tree. I had simply never found someone so right. Sometimes this shocked me so much that I was unable to speak.”
Their relationship is just so beautiful and described with such grace. There is no escaping how compliment each other on every level. Also, there is a sex scene. I often feel quite awkward reading sexytimes, I felt filthy reading this in a café. But, somehow, she managed to write a sexy and endearing scene without using any mention to body parts. Her description of the sensations is powerful and just… wow. This scene people.
It has to be said though, Ali Smith’s writing is perfect for conveying feeling. In the second part of this book, Midge’s coming to terms with Anthea’s relationship and sexuality is so wonderful and realistic. Her sense of character and giving each such individual voices I think comes from her use of the stream of consciousness. Midge’s voice often had me laughing, it has to be said. Some people have criticised how quickly she came to her acceptance of her sister’s sexuality, but I feel it was realistic. Midge wasn’t homophobic, she just didn’t have any experience with gay people and I think that’s somewhat natural and, with Anthea being her sister, I think it was easy for her to just open her arms and accept it because she loved her sister.
Ultimately I adore this book, the nod to Jane Eyre; Anthea telling us “I married her, Reader” is what puts the cherry on the top. She describes their wedding in a beautiful, dreamy way and… I just love this. Ali Smith is such a poetic author and this book is no exception – it’s truly a piece of art and, honestly, I long for everyone to love this book as much as I do.