In selecting today's release by Ali Smith, Artful [Kindle], as a pick of the week, PW writes, "This contemplative, electrifying 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, writing in the first person but not necessarily as Ali Smith, opens with grief: the I-persona has recently lost her longtime love and turns to the papers and research left on her beloved’s desk."
NPR raves, "superb... These brief, acrobatic lectures... perform spectacular feats of criticism. Each is as playful as it is powerful, as buoyant as it is brilliant. It's nothing for Smith to tumble, for example, from Cezanne to the Artful Dodger when she describes 'literality meeting a metaphor,' or for her to consider Beyonce's 2009 hit Halo when she grapples with the notion of liminal spaces. But there's more going on in Artful than nimble analysis. The four lectures — "On time," "On form," "On edge," "On offer and reflection"— arrive within a haunting fictional story about love, loss and healing."
The male NPR critic makes the dead beloved a man. The Independent's critic says she. Maybe Smith has left it open or maybe that's the fictional aspect. Happily, her lesbian partner of 25 years, filmmaker Sarah Wood, is alive and still living with her in a 'dinky' terrace house in Cambridge.
If you don't know Smith, she has twice been shortlisted for the Booker, twice shortlisted for the Orange Prize, and has won a Whitbread, a Hawthornden, and a Scottish Fiction of the Year award, among others. Start with her novels Hotel World or The Accidental. Alain de Botton says, "She's a genius, genuinely modern in the heroic, glorious sense."