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Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Thursday, 26 October 2017

"Artful" by Ali Smith


The narrator is haunted by their dead lover. Viscerally haunted. This ghost tips coffee from mugs and breaks things and steals things. They lie beside the narrator in bed and snore. Their eyes and nose disappear and they smell. Although the narrator knows that all these things are simply the result of their imagination, and are caused by the grief of bereavement, nevertheless the haunting is real.

And the narrator starts to read the dead person's unfinished notes for a series of literary lectures: On Time, On Form, On Edge, On Offer and On Reflection. Witty titles! And the lectures celebrate wonderful poetry and prose. So half of the book is a meditation on art and the other half a meditation on grief and love.

Which makes it utterly and totally original.

And that makes it difficult to review. But I can say her prose is pitch perfect and her originality breathtaking. And her lecture notes are fascinating too.

One of the key texts is Oliver Twist, a book the narrator discovers and reads over the course of this book. This book ends by pointing out that, near the end, Dickens sums up what happens to the main characters but he 'forgets' to mention the Dodger. Who is, of course, Artful.

There are so many great lines, both Smith's own and the ones she quotes. This passage “Edges are magic, too; there's a kind of forbidden magic on the borders of things, always a ceremony of crossing over, even if we ignore it or are unaware of it. In mediaeval times weddings didn't take place inside churches but at their doors - thresholds as markers of the edge of things and places are loaded, framed spaces through which we passed from one state to another.” (pp 126 - 127) shows how she uses words with precision as if they were charms which can conjure us to the real world of dreams.

Other great lines (mostly Ali's):

  • Thread is a great word here, calling to mind yet more worms, and the three Fates with their sisters with the scissors ready to cut us off at the end of our stamina when the life stories all sewn up.” (p 28)
  • We'd never expect to understand a piece of music on one listen, but we tend to believe we've read a book after reading it just once.” (p 31)
  • tweet, our 140 characters in search of a paragraph.” (p 36) You can't say she isn't up to date.
  • If only I'd reimagined you without your snoring. But then it wouldn't have been true, would it? It wouldn't have been you.” (p 44)
  • When I think about what it was like to live with you ... it was like living in a poem or a picture, a story, a piece of music ... it was wonderful.” (p 50)
  • In the beginning was the word, and thw word was what made the difference between form and formlessness, which isn’t to suggest that the relationship between form and formlessness isn’t a kind of dialogue too, or that formlessness had no words, just to suggest that this particular word for some reason made a difference between them - one that started things.” (pp 64 - 65)
  • "God, or some such artist as resourceful
    • Began to sort it out.
    • Land here, sky there,
    • And sea there.” (p 65, quoting Ted Hughes translating Ovid)
  • Form is a matter of clear rules and unspoken understandings, then. It’s a matter of need and expectation. It’s also a matter of breaking rules, of dialogue, crossover between forms. Through such dialogue and argument, form, the shaper and moulder, acts like the other thing called mould, endlessly breeding forms from forms.” (p 67)
  • There’ll always be a dialogue, an argument, between aesthetic form and reality, between form and its content, between seminality, art, fruitfulness and life, There’ll always be seminal argument between forms - that’s how fors produce themselves, out of a meeting of opposites, of different things’ out of form encountering form.” (p 69)
  • Human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, when we long to move the stars to pity.” (p 81 quoting Flaubert)
  • I liked how Dickens called the Dodger all his names, the Artful, the Dodger, the Artful Dodger, Jack Dawkins, Mr John Dawkins, like he was a work of shifting possibility.” (p 91)
  • "I could understand any huge bell hung high in a bell tower, hollow and full, stately and weighty, as high in the air as a bird, beginning the slow ceremonious swing of itself against itself that means any second the air is going to change its nature and become sound.” (p 105)
  • Leonora Carrington was an expert in liminal space ... It’s kind of in-between. A place we get transported to.” (p 111)
  • As it develops it plays out in full what it means to be naive, intelligent, a phoney, lying, attractive, a wanker.” (p 122)
  • Broken things become pattern in reflection.” (p 186)
  • unkissed boy.” (p 191)

Other works by this brilliant and repeatedly original author that I have read and reviewed in this blog include:
The Accidental: a holidaying family is gatecrashed by a young woman
There but for the: a set of stories linked by a man who, at a dinner party, locks himself into one of the upstairs rooms of his host and refuses to come out
How to Be Both which has two halves which can be read in either order (and some copies of the book are printed one way and some the other): one half has a teenage girl trying to cope with the death of her mother; the other half is the exuberant reflections of a renaissance artist who was a woman pretending to be a man.
Autumn: a collage type work
Winter, another collage type work which weaves the story of a Christmas Carol with Cymbeline and the Nativity and reflects on Britain following the Brexit referendum.

Wow! October 2017; 192 pages

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