Review: Public Library + Other Stories – Ali Smith

Public LibraryAli Smith is probably my favourite living author. The way that woman can turn a sentence is just incredible and I honestly think her work just keeps getting better. Her short stories are always masterpieces and this collection is no different.

I will start with a simple statement; this isn’t her best collection, not by a long shot. But it is, nonetheless, amazing. I really liked the layout of this book in that each story is separated by an interlude from various people and how much libraries mean to them. The stories themselves were all perfectly readable but they were primarily 3* stories to start with and, in my opinion, the stories became stronger as the book moved on. The final 3 or 4 were amazing and if the whole book – or even just a couple more stories – were of that calibre I would very easily be able to give this 5*.

However, my final feelings with this book is that is was good, I loved it, it gave me everything I went in to it expecting but I didn’t feel it gave me much more which is what I was holding out for. Ali remains one of my favourite authors and I will read anything she writes, short story collections are notoriously hard for me as a reader to give 5* and this sadly just missed out (I gave it 4* if anyone cares!)

Final words are a big thank you to my lovely friend Sar for gifting me this for my birthday. It was very much loved & appreciated!

Review: The Story of Antigone – Ali Smith

antigoneThis is a retelling of Sophocles’ tragedy about a young girl, Antigone, who after a brutal battle has lost both her brothers. One is declared a hero, the other a traitor.  The king of Thebes decided that his nephew, Antigone’s bother Polynices, was a traitor at the time of his death and as such doesn’t deserve a burial. Young Antigone can’t bear to leave her brother and, fully aware that the penalty for honouring her brother’s remains will be her own death, Antigone still goes out of the city to find his body and bury it.

Ali Smith reworks myth so well. Rather than rework this and give it a modern twist, as she did in Girl Meets Boy, she retells the original myth from the perspective of a crow. This, I have to say, is a stroke of genius on her part. It makes the events a lot more interesting and, in a way, more understandable. She even gets interviewed by the crow at the end which is a really great way to insert more back story. It is worth saying that this is aimed at children and I think the perspective it is told in really helps make it approachable for that younger audience – it’s still gory but not quite so gruesome!

I listened to this as an audiobook, Ali herself narrating it, and it was glorious. It really heightened the experience for me. It wasn’t a long audiobook by any stretch at just over an hour and was perfect to curl up and listen to before bed. I do, however, really want the physical book because I have seen it is beautifully illustrated.

This was easily a 5* book. I loved it.

Review: Hotel World – Ali Smith

hotel worldHotel World was an interesting book but probably my least favourite of Ali Smith’s work that I’ve read. It was still great, I still loved it, but there was just something that I didn’t click with in this.

This book follows 5 PoVs; the ghost of a woman who dies when she following getting in a dumbwaiter at the hotel, a homeless woman who begs outside the hotel, a receptionist at the hotel, a journalist who stays at the hotel and also, the sister of the girl who dies. Now, Smith’s writing really works for multiple perspective writing. The stream of consciousness really gives each of these characters an individual, distinctive voice and she brings the individual threads of their stories together so well.

However, at times it all felt fragile. I think that was intentional. The chapter from Clare’s PoV was hard to read, it was 20-something pages of unpunctuated stream of consciousness and it was intentionally difficult to read – Clare is grieving, you can’t punctuate grief. It’s choppy and rather than the word ‘and’ there are numerous ampersands which, really, is quite effective and clever and does convey the emotion that Clare is feeling at that time.

My favourite section was the first, told from Sara’s perspective, or rather her ghost’s perspective. That section was just so beautiful and fluid, I didn’t put it down. Else was a little more difficult but still, nonetheless, interesting. Lise I could connect with on a more personal level – that section hit home a lot more than I would have liked. Clare, as I said, I found difficult to read but nonetheless understand why it was difficult and finally, the last bit, was a beautiful way to wrap it all up.

Ali Smith is a phenomenal writer. Her use of language is just so clever and I always finish on of her books, marvelling at her skill. It was unique, it wasn’t what I was expecting, I’m glad I read it but it’s not my favourite of her work; I prefer all four of her other novels that I have read to this. For that reason, it’s a 3/5 with a comment of ‘read this if you’re at least somewhat familiar with her work, don’t start here’!

Review: Free Love and Other Stories – Ali Smith

freeloveAli Smith’s strength is her ability to write captivating short stories. I love her novels, I loved Artful which was a collection of pseudo-essays, but the thing I love most is most certainly her short stories.

This is her first published collection, it does some of the signature poetic style that she has developed in later years and I don’t feel that all of it is as polished as her later works but this by no means missed the mark as a good short story collection.

This collection was just wonderful; I’ve read a couple of her later collections and it’s definitely noticeable how her work has evolved over the years. It starts off strong, there are 3 short stories that are solid 4/5 – 5/5. The middle plateaus a little, they are good stories with good characters but they just lacked the depth that a lot of her later works have. Towards the end there are a couple more really strong stories that bring the collection to a close on a high note.

The titular story, Free Love, is the first story and is about a young girls first sexual experience in Amsterdam. I feel it was the standout story in the collection. It is about love, friendship and everything in between. It was beautifully written, as is expected with Ali Smith and the characters were so well developed for such a short story. This is a common theme with Ali’s work, however short a piece is she can establish a character to the point that they’re tangible and you, as a reader, know them personally. The depth she can put in to a relatively short amount of words is insane!

The other favourite I have is Text for a Day. The imagery in this was beautiful. The standout bit of the collection was for me this quote which I shall leave you on:

Pages flutter across motorways or farmland, pages break apart, dissolve in rivers or seas, snag on hedges in suburban areas, cling round their roots. Fragments litter a trail that blows in every direction, skidding across roads in foreign cities, mulching in the wet doorways of small shops, tossed by the weather across grassland and prairies.

There are poems in gutters and drains, under the rails laid for trains, pages of novels on the pavement, in the supermarkets, stuck to people’s feet or the wheels of their bikes and cars; there are poems in the desert. Somewhere where there are no houses, no people, only sky, wind, a wide-open world, a poem about a dormant grass-covered volcano lies held down half-buried in sand, bleaching in the light and heat like the small skull of a bird.