Review: Winter – Ali Smith

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Rating – 5*

I love Ali Smith (I absolutely adore her actually) and I have been looking forward to this book as soon as I finished reading Autumn. Winter is the second offering in the Season quartet and is as equally as powerful as its predecessor.

Essentially, this follows the story of two sisters – Iris and Sophia – but we also follow Sophia’s son Art (Arthur) and Lux, a young woman who has come in to their lives by chance. It’s a very dysfunctional family coming together at Christmastime. It reminded me a lot of The Accidental – Lux is similar in character to Amber in that she’s an outsider who brings a family together. It’s in some ways it is also reminiscent of A Christmas Carol – very subtly but oh so slightly there and I definitely found the connection with the season a lot easier in this book than in Autumn.

As she did in Autumn, the events of the past are mirrored with current events showing that history does repeat itself (to quote Battlestar Galactica, “All of this has happened before and will happen again”) and that we don’t often learn from it. History moves in cycles of events, and in Iris we have a character that bridges a generation gap and links events of the 1970s to those of the present day – nuclear war, racial tensions, so many other factors – and enables us to have a tangible link between the two periods of history which I found a very clever technique to make the entire book feel present not as if it were leapfrogging through time.

I actually decided to listen to part of this as an audiobook and I would highly recommend it. There are not many of Ali Smith’s books available as audiobooks but if you find your main issue with her writing to be the lack of punctuation (something which took me a long time to overcome) then definitely consider the audiobook as it takes that issue out of the equation completely! The narrator for it – Melody Grove – is fantastic and captured Lux as a character perfectly.

Much like with Autumn (and pretty much every Ali Smith book) I have so much trouble finding the words to review and describe this book as I genuinely believe Ali Smith is an author whose books have to be experienced, I find her work so immersive that when I come out of the other side I do then find it hard to review it without spoiling. Therefore, I will always tell you go just go and read (or listen) to it because in my eyes, this is even better than Autumn and that was shortlisted for the Man Booker.

I know Ali Smith isn’t for everyone, but honestly I love her writing and cannot wait to read her next book.

 

 

Review: Autumn – Ali Smith

002-autumn

Rating – 5*

Ali Smith will forever be one of my favourite authors, this book has only emphasised that. I don’t think I can be coherent when it comes to Ali’s books, all my thoughts just jumble and make no sense whatsoever. Her writing is incredible and resonates with me in a way I can’t explain.

Autumn is a novel which is so present and I can only wish I read it when I first bought it – when it was even more recent. Just, how exactly it was possible for Ali Smith to create a full, rich novel involving Britain after Brexit in exactly the time it was taking place I don’t know. But it’s amazing.

This book, in it’s most basic form, is the story of a deep friendship between a young girl – Elisabeth – and an old man – Daniel. The story is told nearly entirely in the form of flashbacks. Stories within stories. Stories about race and identity, stories about art, feminism, sexuality, women, mothers sisters. Stories about a pop artist named Pauline Boty. Yet, ultimately it is the relationship between Elisabeth and Daniel told through all these stories.

As expected with Ali Smith, it is beautifully written. It manages to be both thought provoking and hilarious, sad and happy. It made me think, it made me laugh, there were nods to so many other books, to art, it’s so layered I think every time I read this (because I will re-read it, it’s Ali Smith) I will find new things, new layers to the story and that is something I find pretty damn exciting, and something which will make me want to reread this book.

This year is off to a very good start on the reading front. It seems the books I had hoped to read in the last quarter of the year have so far been amazing, and it makes me glad I took a break from reading if only to enjoy them properly.

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.

UEA Literary Festival: Ali Smith

20150318_180338877_iOSFor anyone who doesn’t know, I’m a student at the University of East Anglia. I’m from Norwich, I still live with my parents and the reason I didn’t move away is that Norwich has everything you could ever wish for in a city. Including, but not limited to, it being named as the first UNESCO City of Literature. The university itself has produced some amazing authors, including Ian McEwan, John Boyne and more recently, Emma Healey. Kazuo Ishaguro did an MA at UEA and the likes of Margaret Atwood and Ali Smith herself have done stints as visiting professors. I shared a lift with Margaret Atwood once (that’s a different, more awkward, story entirely) and, quite awesomely, she was in the lecture theatre on Wednesday night listening to Ali among the masses of us. It was like a double fangirl experience!

And the fact is, I’m still fangirling 2 days on. I still can’t quite get over it. I’m never going to be a girl who enjoys gigs (I love music, but seeing it live doesn’t particularly interest me, unpopular opinion there!) and movies aren’t really my thing but seeing an author, meeting her, having a conversation with her… it feels a lot more personal. Something she created connected with me on a personal level and that’s a really powerful thing.

The “in conversation” section of the evening was just my cup of tea. Listening to her read from How to be Both was just a different reading experience entirely; an audiobook is good but having the author read from a book, in the way they hear the characters in their head, at the pace they intended just adds different depth to what was already an amazing book. I want to reread it already and, if she herself read the audiobook I would buy it! I really wish I had recorded it because she spoke about so many things; art, inspiration, learning and the controversial topic of book-culling… so many things that just hit so many different parts of my mind with fresh insight. I’ve been in a slump lately, generally and reading, Wednesday night just… gave me new inspiration.

20150318_211414384_iOSObviously I then went to a book signing (and bought the two remaining books of hers that I didn’t own. It’s so hard to find them on the highstreet, a book signing in which they have her entire bibliography is prime opportunity to complete a collection!) I was torn as to which books to take to get signed; I asked the manager of my local Waterstones at the last minute on Instagram and he just said take all of them. I managed to get it down to two: my battered, very well loved & read, ex-library edition of Girl Meets Boy and How to be Both, though I had my entire collection (shown above) in my bag and I didn’t make my mind up until I was in the queue. She was lovely, I could have asked her to sign them all and she would have but I didn’t want to be that annoying bitch in the queue who held everyone up! Serious fangirl problems there! But I narrowed it down to 2 books that meant something and I’m happy with my outcome because Girl Meets Boy is one of my favourite books and she loved how battered & loved it was; I was just embarrassed.

If anyone has the opportunity to listen to her speak, or read, or anything grab it with both hands because she’s just so insightful. If you haven’t read any of her work, try it. Just give it a go because she is just so… lovely, her writing is something special and I still think she has been unfairly robbed of the Man Booker all 3 times she’s been shortlisted.

I hope that the university keep running the Literary Festival. It’s now run for 3 years, I wish I’d been to events sooner (I missed out on tickets for Atwood last year. Her event was on the day I shared a lift with her and did that awkward smiling thing you do in a too-small lift. It wasn’t until I left the lift I realised who she was. Awkward. I missed out on so much because I didn’t realise who I was in a lift with; imagine the things I actually COULD have discussed in that 50 seconds it took to get from floor 0 to floor 3?!)

Anyway, keep an eye out for Ali Smith where you are. She’s awesome. Pick up her books, they’re awesome. & I have to thank the UEA for offering these events because it was just awesome and really nice to be surrounded by people who love literature as much as I do (even though I was sat behind my old head teacher and in front of my old GP; I was there first and they sandwiched me! That was more awkward than the Lift with Atwood.)

Review: Artful – Ali Smith

artful-by-ali-smithI love Ali Smith, she is one of my favourite authors and this book has been one I’ve debated reading or not reading because I didn’t really know what it was.

It’s fiction. But it’s also essays. It’s a hybrid that you can’t quite distinguish between what’s real and what isn’t. It doesn’t really have any one genre, it is just a mix of literary criticism, essay and fiction. But the line is fine between what is essay/lecture and what is fiction as it’s just so beautifully interwoven. Once you get over the initial confusion it is just such a pleasure to read. It is by no means easy to get over that initial feeling and it does often require a sentence (or entire passage) to be read twice.

I’ve never read the essay form before and I thought maybe this would be a good introduction to it as it’s a more gentle dip rather than a full on plunge in to the waters of the essay! I’m so glad I finally read this. There are some bits, particularly where she’s talking about trees and it was just something I had to read two or three times because it was beautiful. I think actually there were several botany interludes and it was just so seamlessly integrated, it had such poignant relevance and this book, this book.

This is definitely not the place to start with Ali Smith – the prose is beautiful (possibly some of her best) but it’s just very difficult if you’re not familiar with her general style. Ultimately though is amazing – 4/5.

Review: How to be Both – Ali Smith

how-to-be-bothAs always with Ali Smith, this book had me a little conflicted. Once I was in to it, I absolutely adored it. That much is certain. My main wish is that I, personally, had more time to read this over 1 or 2 sittings opposed to 4 or 5 days which it did take. Her writing is something that has to absolutely be consumed, it’s something that has to be done on binge setting, it’s not as easy dipping in and out as I was on bus journeys.

How to Be Both is made up of two parts. The present day, the life of George, a teenage girl whose mother has died suddenly and the other centres around the life of a 15th-century painter Francesco. The thing I didn’t realise is that the novel exists in two editions – one with George’s story first and one with Francesco’s. I personally had an edition with Francesco first. But it can be read in any order, either way around, each story references the other. I’ve also heard that if you purchase the ebook that both versions are delivered to your device! Exciting.

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Review: Girl Meets Boy – Ali Smith

GirlMeetsBoyI don’t think I can quite express how much I love this book. I first read this book in 2010 and I fell in love with it then. As a 16 year old, finding this book, a book that I identified so easily with I was captured and I have since read it once a year – it’s no stretch to say that this is one of my favourite books of all time. Every time I read this book I love it a little more, and in different ways. This time I took a bit longer to read it, rather than devouring it in one sitting and I’m not sure if that was the right thing to do but I decided to approach this a bit differently this time around as it was being read for the Classical Readalong.

Unlike reading The Odyssey before re-reading The Penelopiad, I don’t feel that reading The Metamorphoses altered my enjoyment of Girl Meets Boy. It didn’t change my opinion, it didn’t change how I approached it or how I interpreted it – maybe it’s because I was familiar with the myth of Iphis prior to my reading of The Metamorphoses. A lot of people say this book is just a long poetic ramble, and it is, but I love it.

 

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