Girl Meets Boy is part of the Canongate Myths series, where authors retell a tale from mythology their own way. I’ve only read one other (The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood) but wish I had read more because I love the idea…which is why I picked Girl Meets Boy up.
Based on Ovid’s story or Iphis and Ianthe, it is a about love, fear, family and the not so nice things in life like sexism and homophobia with a fair bit of corporate greed thrown in for good measure. That’s a lot for 84 pages (this is a short story) yet Ali Smith manages to cleverly get her messages of acceptance across without losing the love story at the heart of it.
In the myth, Iphis is born a girl. Her father had said he would kill the child if they were not male so the mother prays to the gods and they tell her to raise her daughter as a boy, which she does. When Iphis grows up, she/he falls in love with his best friend Ianthe, a girl, and they plan to marry. Knowing she/he cannot make Ianthe truly happy as a woman, she/he also prays to the gods who turn him into a real man. Then everyone lives happily ever after – unusual from what I know of Greek Myth.
In the present the story takes place Inverness with Iphis played by Robin (a girl) and Ianthe by Anthea (also a girl). They meet by chance and Robin helps Anthea find her place in the world, a world she had previously felt lost in and one where she had found herself employed by Pure, a corporation who believes they can make water a commodity and take over the world. Together, they find love, peace and – eventually acceptance of family. Family includes Anthea’s sister Imogen who struggles with her sisters sexuality and is going through her own journey of discovery as she realises she does not have to conform to the male dominated world around her either.
What it means to be a woman and women’s rights across the world are writ large here. Ali Smith doesn’t pull punches and cleverly includes statistics by way of art as part of the storyline. These are alone enough to make you think but as I said earlier, there is so much more. I realy like Smith’s style of writing. It is sharp and witty and felt perfect here for the tale she was telling. It made me laugh and smile and question. All good things when it comes to reading. I liked this a lot. Highly recommended.