The stories in Ali Smith's new collection are about what we do with books and what they do with us: how they travel with us; how they shock us, change us, challenge us, banish time while making us older, wiser, and ageless all at once; how they remind us to pay attention to the world we make.
Borrowing from painting’s fresco technique to make an original literary double-take, it's a fast-moving, genre-bending conversation between forms, times, truths, and fictions. There’s a Renaissance artist of the 1460s. There’s the child of a child of the 1960s. Two tales of love and injustice twist into a singular yarn where time gets timeless, structural gets playful, knowing gets mysterious, fictional gets real--and all life’s givens get given a second chance.
In 2012, Ali Smith delivered the Weidenfeld lectures on European comparative literature at St. Anne’s College, Oxford. Those lectures, presented here, took the shape of discursive stories that refused to be tied down to either fiction or the essay form. Thus, Artful is narrated by a character who is haunted - literally - by a former lover, the writer of a series of lectures about art and literature. A hypnotic dialogue unfolds between storytelling and a meditation on art that encompasses love, grief, memory, and revitalization.
Fusing Keatsian mists and mellow fruitfulness with the vitality, the immediacy and the colour hit of Pop Art - via a bit of skullduggery - Autumn is a witty excavation of the present by the past. Autumn is a take on popular culture and a meditation in a world growing ever more bordered: what constitutes richness and worth?
At a dinner party in the posh London suburb of Greenwich, Miles Garth suddenly leaves the table midway through the meal, locks himself in an upstairs room, and refuses to leave. Neighbors and friends slowly gathers around the house, and the story of Miles is one told from the points of view of four of them: a woman in her 40s called Anna, a man in his 60s called Mark, a woman in her 80s called May, and a 10-year-old child called Brooke. The thing is... none of these people knows Miles anything more than glancingly.
"Insufferable as a bad house guest"
How to Be Both is a novel all about art's versatility. There's a renaissance artist of the 1460s. There's the child of a child of the 1960s. Two tales of love and injustice twist into a singular yarn where time gets timeless, structural gets playful, knowing gets mysterious, fictional gets real - and all life's givens get given a second chance.
Barefoot, thirtysomething Amber shows up at the door of a Norfolk cottage that the Smarts are renting for the summer. Amber doesn't know them, but she talks her way in, telling lies, and stays for dinner. Eve, an author, thinks Amber is a student her husband is sleeping with. Michael, an English professor, knows only that her car broke down. Daughter Astrid, age 12, thinks she's her mother's friend. Son Magnus, 17, thinks she's an angel.
"I do not recommend"
Originally four lectures given by Ali Smith at Oxford University, Artful is a tidal wave of ideas in four thematically organised bursts of thought: On Time, On Form, On Edge and On Offer and On Reflection. Refusing to be tied down to either fiction or the essay form, Artful is narrated by a character who is haunted - literally - by a former lover, the writer of a series of lectures about art and literature. Full of both the poignancy and humour of fiction and all the sideways insights and jaunty angles you would expect from Ali Smith’s criticism
Why are books so very powerful? The stories in this collection are about what we do with books and what they do with us: how they travel with us and shock us, change us and challenge us, banish time while making us older, wiser and ageless all at once and how they remind us to pay attention to the world that we make. With this brilliantly inventive collection, Ali Smith joins the campaign to save our public libraries and celebrate their true place in our culture and history.
Imagine you give a dinner party and a friend of a friend brings a stranger to your house as his guest. He seems pleasant enough. Imagine that this stranger goes upstairs halfway through the dinner party and locks himself in one of your bedrooms and won't come out. Imagine you can't move him for days, weeks, months. If ever. Ali Smith's dazzling new novel is a funny, moving book about time, memory, thought, presence, quietness in a noisy time, and the importance of hearing ourselves think.
"Good premise, didn't deliver"
The crow crossed the sky, slow-beating her wings. Beat, beat, beat. It was night, not yet morning, and her feathers were so black that she coasted the air invisible above the city wall. Thus begins Ali Smith's retelling of Sophocles' tragedy, about a young Theban princess who decides to bury her dishonoured brother Polynices, against King Creon's express orders, with heart-breaking consequences.