The incomparable Ali Smith melds the tale and the essay into a magical hybrid form, a song of praise to the power of stories in our lives
In February 2012, Ali Smith delivered the Weidenfeld lectures on European comparative literature at St. Anne’s College, Oxford. Her lectures took the shape of this set of discursive stories. Refusing to be tied down to either fiction or the essay form, Smith narrates Artful through 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, a duet between and a meditation on art and storytelling, a book about love, grief, memory, and revitalization. Smith’s heady powers as a fiction writer harmonize with her keen perceptions as a reader and critic to form a living thing that reminds us that life and art are never separate.
Artful is a book about the things art can do, the things art is full of, and the quicksilver nature of all artfulness. It glances off artists and writers from Michelangelo through Dickens then all the way past postmodernity, exploring every form from ancient cave painting to 1960s cinema musicals.
Artful is a celebration of literature’s worth in and to the world and a meaningful
contribution to that worth in itself. There has never been a book quite like it.
"Smith can make anything happen, which is why she is one of our most exciting writers today"
"She's a genius, genuinely modern in the heroic, glorious sense"
—Alain de Botton
“This is a joyful and optimistic paean to the healing powers of art.”
“This is a sparky, inspiring, charm-laden little book that makes you want to read more and differently”
—Scotland on Sunday
“You’ll find nuggets of delight, ideas to make you woozy... an insight into an author who is in love with books, invention and words in all their depth and shiny surface”
"Smart, allusive, informal, playful, audacious. (It's true. I think I am in love with Ali Smith.) 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."
— Independent on Sunday
"Glittering inventiveness. Not just a ghost story, but also a love letter. As emotionally freighted as a piece of storytelling, as intellectually rigorous as an academic's essay."
"Smith's exuberance and cleverness delight. This is a sparky, inspiring, charm-laden little book that makes you want to read more and differently."
— The Week
"A wonderful achievement. Smith is so readable, likable, witty, and difficult to put down, that it makes you wonder why more people don't make use of her. She could make David Cameron interesting. ARTFUL is a uniquely accessible work of criticism at the same time as it's a haunting fictional portrayal of grief, lost love and the power of art. Smith possesses rare levels of genius. She deserves to be read and discussed by every single person who has an interest in literature today."
"Contemplative, electrifying, and transformative."
"A charming balancing act... Audacious, acrobatic prose that somehow also manages to be heartbreaking.”
"A seductive and compelling case for the power of imagination... A wonderful, deeply original book.”
"Powerful and moving."
—London Review of Books
"A joyful and optimistic paean to the healing powers of art.”
“Reading ARTFUL, we feel grief, bafflement, irritation, pleasure, amusement, helplessness, and the joy of intermittent revelation. We feel what literature…delivers to our lives.”
—The New York Times
"Artful is a philosophical puzzle constructed of pieces we’d long ago thought had settled well into place. . . an exceptionally pertinent project for the contemporary novel to undertake, given that a century has now passed since these avant-garde ideals first revolutionized the form."
“Smith has handed us a mixtape, with commentary, of her favourite writers, a group that includes Katherine Mansfield, Angela Carter, Emily Dickinson and Graham Greene . . . Smith’s own writing often rivals or surpasses that of her idols.”
“Smith’s writing reveals how books can open up writers and their readers to the world.”
”The experience of reading a book by a possibly deranged, brilliant, well-read, deeply introspective narrator, channeled by Ali Smith, is unsettling in the best possible way.”
—Globe and Mail
Ali Smith was born in Inverness in 1962 and lives in Cambridge. Her first book, Free Love and Other Stories, won the Saltire First Book Award. Her other short story collections are Other Stories And Other Stories (1999), The Whole Story and Other Stories (2003) and The First Person and Other Stories. Her novels include: Like (1997); Hotel World (2001), which won the Encore Award, the East England Arts Award of the Year and the Scottish Arts Council Book of the Year Award in 2002; The Accidental (2005), winner of the Whitbread Novel Award; and her latest There but for the which was published by Hamish Hamilton in 2011. Ali Smith also writes for the Guardian, the Scotsman and the TLS.