Saturday, 11 July 2015

Ali Smith - some notes

Without selecting her intentionally, I've managed to read many of her books. Here are my notes (some quite extensive) about them

Of these I liked "Artful" least (it fell uncomfortably between 2 stools), and preferred "There but for the" to "How to be both". I usually like her story collections. She's often been interviewed -

  • The Guardian, June 2015
  • New York Times, November 2014
  • Cafe Babel, January 2014
    This sense of en­counter, of open­ing up a lib­er­at­ing space, re­curs in Smith’s fic­tion; un­ex­pected (and frequently un­wanted) vis­i­tors are a re­peated, al­beit al­ways var­ied motif.
  • The Daily Beast, January, 2013
    What is the story behind the publication of your first book?
    I had a job, I got ill, I left the job to get better, and while I was getting better, I wrote some stories. I sent them to some publishers and the fifth one who replied said they'd take them. Then they went bankrupt. Then that bankrupt publisher got bought by a bigger firm.
  • The Stinging fly, 2013
  • The Quietus, November, 2012
    Form, Ali Smith says, “will tell you everything about where [a people] live and what shape they’re in".
    Artful is dizzyingly original but it is not, of course, without influence or precursors: the book stems, Smith says, “from a meeting of Atwood’s sublime examination of voice in literature, Negotiating With The Dead, Calvino’s Six Memos [for the Next Millennium], and Woolf’s A Room Of One’s Own,

Books and papers have been written about her -

  • In "Ali Smith: Contemporary Critical Perspectives" Luna Dolezal writes
    • "Ali Smith often tests and disrupts our notions of time, language, gender and social and narrative expectation. She plays with structure and multiple voices. 'There but for the' (2011) is written in four parts, entitled “There”, “but”, “for” and “the”. Each section begins mid-sentence, the section title being the first word: “There was once ...”; “But would a man ...” and so on. The Accidental (2005) has three parts: “The beginning”, “The middle” and “The end”. Each of the main characters is given their own space, within each part, to tell their story."
    • "Smith’s stories often feature wild-card characters whose unexpected and usually inexplicable actions disrupt the previously stable but often stagnant, unhappy worlds of the other characters. The arrival of such a character initiates the story (Amber in The Accidental, Miles in There but for the). This novel hinges on a disruptive impulse too but this time it’s a mother (Carol), at the heart of an engaged and lively family, who is the trickster and the world is changed by her departure"
    • "A preoccupation with surveillance is familiar territory to Smith’s readers."
    • "In Artful, Smith complains: “the main problem with writing anything at all is that it’s inevitably always linear – one word after another”. Inevitably and always are not concepts we expect from this writer and she doesn’t waste much time with them. In the structure of How to be both she immediately sets about undermining her own statement, while George’s nerdy preoccupation with grammar, accuracy and shifts in tense destabilise – and emphasise – time and narrative sequence in the novel. This is just one example of the many elements of Artful that are picked up and carried on by How to be both."
    • "A writer whose sense of narrative veers towards the discontinuous, Ali Smith often seem to pick up themes and images where previous work left off. They share ideas, but do different things with them. The links between Artful and How to be both are particularly strong: bereavement and a dusty ghost; discussions of art, time and form; a pastiche of quotes and cultural references; gender disruption; word play; the value of attention and close reading".
  • In "Ali Smith" edited By Monica Germanà and Emily Horton it says
    • "her ethical and political preoccupations offer insightful critiques of the contemporary condition, touching on topics as diverse as globalization and technology, consumererism and gender norms", p.1
    • "More recently, Smith's work has continued to display preoccupations with the lack of authenticity and the changing values of an increasingly globalizes twenty-first-century society ... while simultaneously, celebrating the redemptive power of language and self-fashioning", p.2
    • "fascination with liminal boundaries between reality and fiction, truth and lies", p.4
    • "language can manipulate people and their desire, but it can also, in its poetic function, fill the social vacuum left open by the postmodern condition, reasserting the importance of community and communication", p.7
    The book also mentions that her PhD was about Joyce, Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams, that people associate her with Scottish Gothic (Stephenson, Spark), that she says her influences include Carter, Calvino, Atwood, Brooke-Rose, Yeats, Woolf, Mansfield, and that readers sense a tension between Modernist and post-modernist tendencies.

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