Now what I am about to tell you may shock you. Hold on. Ali Smith’s novel Girl Meets Boy is a queer story with a happy ending. Yes for those of us who have persevered through queer theory at university, it’s not long until you realise most queer narratives unfortunately do not have a happy ending. But Smith’s novel takes you on Anthea’s journey as she falls for the gender explorative guerrilla graffitist Robin. She parallels two modern Scottish characters with the Greek tale of Iphis and Ianthe, a story in which Iphis must be born a girl or they will be killed by their father, however when growing up Iphis falls in love with Ianthe, on the day they are destined to marry Iphis fears it will not go through because of their female body- however on the wedding day a Goddess blesses Iphis by transforming the female body to male so that the pair can live in love. Robin we can view as a gender queer character using Iphis as their graffiti tag, performing her protests in a kilt and by Anthea’s descriptions of Robin as having ‘a girl’s toughness. She had a boy’s gentleness. She was as meaty as a girl. She was as graceful as a boy.’ This fluidity of gender, paired with constant references to water throughout creates a luxurious flow as we watch the pair’s relationship blossom.
Smith counteracts this mythic love with Anthea’s sister, Imogen. She is presented as a modern neo-liberal woman, obsessed with self-improvement and success. She is the only woman in a high up position within corrupt capitalist company Pure, surrounded by the inflated egos of boss men and an uninterested Anthea. She is a persistent yet uncontended woman. In doing this Smith stops the reader from floating off with the blissful yet radical relationship by cementing our feet in the inevitable profit based society we live in. Smith playfully toys with engrained homophobia, as we see the character of Imogen go over every stereotype, bigoted comment and misconception that we can imagine an ignorant to say when contemplating the concept that ‘my sister might be a lesbian’. The contrasting yet deeply rooted relationship between the sisters drives home the solidarity of female relationships, while keeping you comfortably placed in modern life.
The narrative is tied by the story of their adventurous grandparents who travelled out to sea and never returned. Although Smith creates a mournful tone, there is also a bold sense of adventure and excitement throughout, as if part of their grandparent’s spirit wills them to take risks.
A perfect balance of myth and modernity makes for an easy yet poetic read. There is a blend of romance, comedy and corporate greed that feels timeless. In adding today’s gendered and queer politics Smith takes the power of Ancient Greek romance and pertinently places it in the hands of today’s lovers.