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Artful by Ali Smith
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Artful (original 2012; edition 2013)

by Ali Smith

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1186102,161 (4)5
Member:DoraD
Title:Artful
Authors:Ali Smith
Info:Penguin Press HC, The (2013), Hardcover, 256 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
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Artful by Ali Smith (2012)

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Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
I found I enjoyed this book more in the morning when I was fresh enough to meet its challenges as Smith does expect a fair bit of her readers in this transposition of her four lectures on art and literature, a subject right up her street with the way she likes to fuse different forms.

So, sometimes I found myself nodding my head pleased that she was asserting something that I have felt too such as the need to read a book more than once to be able to appreciate it. I also found myself in agreement when she talked about the way some books and films use withholding knowledge in order to create suspense, something that has always struck me as a poor device. Often, though, I had to reread and think about what Smith was saying and not always was I successful. Clearly, although I was actually rereading chunks of the book as I went, I’ll have to reread again.

What is hailed as original in this book is its melding of the story of a woman talking to her dead partner who’s reappeared shedding rubble and smelling increasingly with her thoughts on aspects of literature. I think this is reasonably effective although I felt I needed more explanation at times. It also seemed odd to be combining intellectually challenging ideas with some pretty awful puns but then this wouldn’t be an Ali Smith book without them.

I enjoyed all her references to other novelists (giving me a few ideas for further reading) and I strongly concur that Katherine Mansfield’s short stories (some of which I’ve reread many times!) don’t have the recognition that they deserve. Overall, though, I’m not too sure about how successful this book is for me, partly because the connections between one point and the next, especially when Smith lists the different meanings of words, aren’t clear to me – once again, I suppose, supporting Smith’s contention that rereading is necessary. ( )
  evening | Nov 18, 2014 |
As part of a Visiting Professorship at the University of Oxford in 2012, Ali Smith presented four lectures on aspects of fiction, specifically “On time,” “On form,” “On edge,” and “On offer and on reflection.” Presented here “pretty much as they were delivered”, the lectures must have garnered much comment and a few divided opinions, due for the most part not to the arguments presented or the views expounded but rather to the manner of their presentation. Smith envelopes her lectures in a superstructure of narrative, ostensibly exploring the grief of a spouse whose academic partner has died and left a series of incomplete lectures on aspects of fiction. Smith is an accomplished writer, so it is hardly surprising that her narrative superstructure is both compelling and charged with emotion. No doubt it made for wonderful theatre for those in attendance. But does it contribute in any way to her overall thesis? I suspect that opinions in Oxford must have divided on this point and that more than a few high table dinners must have been enlivened by the ensuing debate.

For my own part, I don’t have a particular problem with Smith’s playfully artful technique. It surely serves some purpose in the mixology of forms as academic essay is blended and stirred with narrative drive. If that’s the kind of thing you like, then it works very well. Regrettably, it can also serve as a distraction from the more focused argumentative points being made in the non-narrative parts of the lectures. And there are many points here worth considering and reflecting upon. But I’m uncertain as to whether Smith herself is anxious about the points she is making. Is the narrative component a means of deflecting straightforward engagement? Is this why she places these ‘arguments’ in the voice of a dead companion? Is she disowning her theses even as she presents them?

Perhaps. Perhaps there is more going on here than I’m willing on a single reading to discern. But I think clear and thoughtful argument is rather hard to come by. Indeed, even amongst those who don’t take on narrative blending techniques, the making plain of something that is subtle and possibly important is rarely achieved. So I rather regret techniques that make the already difficult task more opaque. And so I cannot recommend this collection of essays. An interesting read, but not a thoughtful consideration on aspects of fiction that adds to our understanding. ( )
  RandyMetcalfe | Oct 18, 2014 |
This is a very good fit for an artist who loves literature who is processing the loss of a loved one. It's fragmented narrative fits the confusion of months following loss. It is also presents a good framework for thinking about time, form, edges and reflection ( )
  objectplace | Jun 7, 2014 |
Smith is a genius and her essays/talks on time, on form, on edge, on offer and on reflection but also a love story sent me immediately to buy the book as I handed in my library copy. Starting right off, she quotes Dickens from an old orange Penguin edition of Oliver Twist, then the myth of Achilles, Alice in Wonderland,The Golden Bowl, Jane Austen from an obscure title Jack & Alice. Ozi e vizi a Pammydiddle which I can only find on here in Italian, Walter Benjamin,Joseph Conrad,José Saramago. I can't stop. I'm scurrying all over the house looking for copies of every book mentioned, placing library orders,expanding my swollen To Read list like the crazy bibliophile and avid poetry reader I answer to. Who is Gordon Mackay Brown? GR doesn't know but I must find out. And I haven't even touched on her exquisite prose and wonderful mind, linking literature, art, movies, music. It is all here. ( )
  featherbooks | Mar 8, 2014 |
Artful is the best book I have read this year, and I have read some great books. It's brilliant: inventive, funny, original and exhilarating. A fiction wrapped around lectures on literature, Artful had its genesis in a series of lectures Smith delivered. But note that her actual presentation didn't consist just of the lecture sections, but in fact, the whole story, including the fictional framework.

If it sounds confusing, I suppose it might be, and Smith probably isn't for everyone. As I read Smith's most recent two books, I have imagined this is what Virginia Woolf's contemporaries must have felt reading her. If you like Woolf, and you like W.G. Sebald, read Ali Smith. ( )
1 vote Laura400 | May 13, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
And maybe in the end that's what the book really is: a seductive and compelling case for the power of the imagination. Or – to go back to Dickens – a gorgeous and artfully dodging work of "shifting possibility". Or, in the words of Katherine Mansfield who, on finishing DH Lawrence's Aaron's Rod, compared it to a tree "firmly planted, deep thrusting, outspread, growing grandly, alive in every twig. All the time I read this book I felt it was feeding me." Back to trees, then, a perfect leitmotif for the unstoppable nourishment of literature. And there is food and substance in this wonderful, deeply original book.
 
Artful is a gift from Ali Smith to her reader. It's a book no one else could have written, or would have. Smith has a critic's eye, but fills her book with the novelist's art, and the novelist's heart. Time to read it again now.
 
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Epigraph
Don't try to hold on to the wave
That's breaking against your foot: so long as
You stand in the stream of fresh waves
will always keep breaking against it

Bertolt Brecht
translated by Gerhard Nelhaus
Dedication
for Xandra Bingley
Emma Wilson
and Sarah Wood
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Presents a meditative collection of writings on the nature of art and storytelling and incorporates tribute elements to iconic writers and artists throughout history.

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