ARTFUL by Ali Smith


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Acclaimed Scottish novelist Smith (There but for the, 2011, etc.) considers the places where art and life intersect, sometimes collide and meld.

The guide on this extraordinary journey is a woman who, after “twelvemonth and a day” of mourning, sees her dead lover before her. She offers the apparition tea and begins to ask questions, but the responses are garbled and confused. Smith’s storytelling facility and critical eye are evident in the fact that this ongoing conversation—adapted from a series of lectures at St. Anne’s College, Oxford—about time, memory, loss, longing, love, art and nature stirs the mind and heart all the more because it takes place between the imagination and reality. In the essay “On time,” Smith reminds us of Shakespeare’s “Devouring Time, Time’s pencil, Time’s fell and injurious hand, Time’s scythe, Time’s fickle glass.” Even books, she writes, are “tangible pieces of time in our hands…they travel with us, they accompany us from our pasts into our futures….” In each of the essays, the woman continues her struggle with grief and letting go. Her lost lover returns again and again in an alarming state of increasing decay, and she regrets the failings of her imagination to call up an odorless, less-ragged form. Smith seamlessly connects the narrator’s smart, funny, regret-infused observations to an expansive discussion of aesthetics, metaphor, the tension between form and fluidity, what it means to be on the edge in life and art, the power of Oliver Twist (in all its forms) and Alfred Hitchcock movies, and the acts of giving and taking. On this quest, the author goes into the “margins that burn with the energy of edit” to shed light on the human spirit through art. But does the grieving woman ever let go of her lover’s spirit and move on? It’s all beautifully revealed.

A soulful intellectual inquiry and reflection on life and art, artfully done.

Pub Date: Jan. 28th, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-59420-486-9
Page count: 220pp
Publisher: Penguin Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 2012


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