(Current fiction & past quality fiction)
“Artful” (Penguin) by Scottish author Ali Smith celebrates the value of art in life. According to the publisher, in February 2012, the novelist 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, “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, 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 post-modernity, exploring every form, from ancient cave painting to 1960s cinema musicals. This kaleidoscope opens up new, inventive, elastic insights—on the relation of aesthetic form to the human mind, the ways we build our minds from stories, the bridges art builds between us. “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.
The New York Times noted: “There’s a good deal of clanking exposition in these lectures. Each central term is walked over the Oxford English Dictionary and provided multiple definitions. ‘Edges involve extremes,’ we read. ‘Edges are borders. Edges are very much about identity, about who you are.’ You begin to long for an edge to slice your head off.”
Considering the often “clanking exposition” found in The New York Times, Examiner read “Artful” with more enthusiasm than a Scottish rabbit leaping hither and thither through the heather – with artful grace. The book is highly recommended.
Ali Smith is the author of nine works of fiction, including the novel “Hotel World,” which won the Encore Award and the Scottish Arts Council Book of the Year Award, and “The Accidental,” which won the Whitbread Award and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction. Born in Inverness, Scotland, Smith now lives in Cambridge, United Kingdom.