The First Person and Other Stories by Ali Smith: The History of History

the first person and other stories

In The History of History, the narrator is a teenage girl impacted by her mother’s nervous breakdown. About a month ago out of the blue, the narrator’s mother had told her family that she’s done playing the roles of wife and mother, and insisted that they call her by her name, which is Margaret. We are not privy to what pushed Margaret over the edge, but we learn that’s she is the only one who did the cooking, shopping, and laundry around the house. Now that’s she doing none of that, both her husband and daughter are feeling lost, and we can see that this is taking a toll on the narrator who is suddenly being forced to act like an adult.

Because of this from the begging of the story, I felt sorry for the narrator. At school, even when the narrator tells her best friend what’s going on at home, she doesn’t get the kind of response she had imagined she’d receive – it’s like the narrator’s grievances fall into deaf ears. I realize that kids aren’t equipped to deal with situations like this, but some sort of acknowledgement of the narrator’s pain would have been nice – the narrator clearly needs better friends! Anyway, towards the end of the story, I began to feel sorry for the mother as well when the narrator mentions that neither she nor her father knows how to start the washing machine. Maybe Margaret felt like an unpaid servant, and that contributed to her meltdown?

I enjoyed reading this story, however, for the life of me I can’t figure out why it is named The History of History. In the story, the narrator has to write a news report on the death of Mary, Queen of Scots. But if there’s an analogy between that and what Margaret is going through it is lost on me. 3 stars.

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