Girl Meets Boy, by Ali Smith

A change for the better

The myth of Iphis is one of the happier of Ovid's metamorphoses: the girl raised as a boy to avoid her father's wrath falls in love with another girl, upon which her gender is changed by the sympathetic goddess Isis to enable them to marry. It's a felicitous story among the accounts of rapes and murders, the agony of bodily transformation. In this modern-day reinterpretation, Ali Smith, with humour and typical linguistic versatility, explores issues of homophobia, corporate and social responsibility and the sheer vertiginous feeling of falling in love.

Two sisters, Anthea and Imogen, live in the small Scottish town in which they grew up, in a house left to them by eccentric grandparents who sailed to Europe on a whim and never returned. They had tried to pass on their brand of optimism to their granddaughters: "You're going to have to learn the kind of hope that makes things history."

At work, however – which for both sisters means the petrified, subdued Creative team at Pure, a local bottled water company run by unscrupulous executives – hope is in short supply. Midge tries to fit in, putting up with sexist male co-workers. Ambition bites hard; weight drops worryingly from her. Her only real friend is Paul – but, horror of horrors, she thinks he might be gay. Diffident Anthea skulks and dreams her way through her days, until the appearance of a very attractive kilted protester trespassing Pure's premises – eco-warrior Iphisol, aka Robin – tips the balance.

Robin is one of Smith's specialities, a mysterious, smooth-talking, desirable female catalyst. She "had a girl's toughness. She had a boy's gentleness. She was as meaty as a girl. She was as graceful as a boy..." . Soon she and Anthea embark on a gleeful urban guerrilla rampage against convention and consumerism, and an even more interesting investigation of sexuality. Midge is comically appalled: "My little sister is going to grow up into a dissatisfied older predatory totally dried up abnormal woman like Judi Dench in the film Notes on a Scandal" – until an urgent concern emerges in the form of a promotion at Pure. Having come up with a new brand of water, Eau Caledonia, Midge is invited to a bunker-like think-tank known as Base Camp, where her boss, the menacing Keith, confides Pure's long-term strategy for global domination and exploitation. Midge's role will be to lie publicly about the company's intentions.

Girl Meets Boy is a delicate tale with a solid message of conscientious objection at its heart. It reaches a joyful conclusion in which the formalised pairing off of couples is more reminiscent of Shakespearean comedy than the gruesome imagery of Ovid. Keith enquires of his team: " How, precisely, do we bottle imagination?" Effervescent retellings such as this perhaps provide the answer.

Canongate, £12.99

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Arts and Entertainment
Dapper Laughs found success through the video app Vine

comedy Erm...he seems to be back

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Arts and Entertainment
Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly flanking 'Strictly' winners Flavia Cacace and Louis Smith

tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

    The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
    Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

    Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

    France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
    Sports Quiz of the Year

    Sports Quiz of the Year

    So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

    From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

    Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect