cover image Artful


Ali Smith. Penguin Press, $25.95 (256p) ISBN 978-1-59420-486-9

This contemplative, electrifying, and transformative book comes in four sections, originally delivered as lectures on comparative literature at St. Anne’s College, Oxford. Readers, however, won’t find themselves on the other side of the lectern. Instead, Smith (There but for the), writing in the first person but not necessarily as Ali Smith, opens with grief: the I-persona has recently lost her longtime love and, still in the throes of despair a year later, turns to the papers and research left on her beloved’s desk, ostensibly for a series of talks on literature—the substance of which becomes much of Smith’s actual lectures. Through riveting reflections on the limitations and the limitlessness of stories, Smith considers four aspects of the endeavor of creation: on “time,” “form,” “edge,” and “offer and reflection.” Yet what Smith also provides is the I-persona’s own journey, through her anguish, through her responses to her beloved’s notes and ideas (which the reader also reads) and through some “real” life (visits with a therapist, some mentions of work, etc.). The results are redemptive for everyone, testifying with singular clarity and wit to the immutable necessity for art. (Jan. 28)