Ali Smith has always managed to challenge the idea of what a novel is and Artful is no exception, even now as I sit here I am having trouble with describing the book due to the fact that I want to write a cohesive review.
Essentially the book is a four part criticism of art: The notion of time in art, how art can be edgy, the form of art and then a general overview. However this is Ali Smith and she’s going to take something like this into new dimensions.
The narrator has recently lost her husband and he appears as a ghost and she discovers his notes which focus on the aspects of art I have mentioned above. Not only that but the ghost also represents the aspect of art that is being discussed. As an example, when the form of art is being discussed, the ghost is becoming more lifelike.
Despite the informative value of the book, Ali Smith still manages to create a complete story with closure so it is a pleasure to read. There’s a dalliance with a psychologist, digressions on insects, Beyonce gets a mention and even lyrics to Greek pop songs which serve as a subliminal message. Oh and the title is a reference to the Artful Dodger as the ghost appears when the narrator is reading Oliver Twist but also artful means showing creative skill, which is what art is.
If I am making everything confusing, do not worry. Ali Smith manages to pull everything together in the most effortless way possible. I also liked the fact that lots of elements from Artful were later used in Smith’s books that followed. There are ghosts in Winter, How to be Both also focused on the role of art, especially photography., Same with Autumn.
Anyway Artful is an essential book for an Ali Smith and is an example of her genius. The basis of Artful were four lectures but she manages to turn everything into a readable, yet brainy novel. There’s nothing like Artful and I doubt there ever will be.