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4.03  ·  Rating details ·  2,096 ratings  ·  281 reviews
The incomparable Ali Smith melds the tale and the essay into a magical hybrid form, a song of praise to the power of stories in our lives

In February 2012, the novelist Ali Smith delivered the Weidenfeld lectures on European comparative literature at St. Anne’s College, Oxford. Her lectures took the shape of this set of discursive stories. Refusing to be tied down to either
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published January 24th 2013 by Penguin Press (first published November 1st 2012)
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Average rating 4.03  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,096 ratings  ·  281 reviews

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Apr 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed, favorites
"All of it? I say.
Lucky for you the ands are ampersands, you say.
You are calling my bluff, of course. I call yours back. I take the book to the tattoo parlour down Mill Road and come home, after several sessions, with exactly this tattoo. I choose to have it done in deep blue, the colour of your eyes. It costs me a fortune. It hurts like irony.
I see you again only when it's finished and my skin settled down.
You're unreal, you say when you see it.
You're the real unreal thing all right.
Less than a
MJ Nicholls
Oct 12, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An extended Smith short story, wrapped like bacon around the sausage of her illuminating Oxford lectures, makes up this debut non-fiction collection from the Best Living Scottish Novelist (caps mean cred). Her trope of using the second person to address an absent presence (in this case, Smith is the one being addressed, by her partner) returns, fortunately intermittent between the otherwise un-tampered-with content of her brief lectures. Not unlike Adam Thirlwell’s grandiose Miss Herbert in its ...more
Stephen P
Jan 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: interiority, memoir
There are books which through the softness of their sound, their words dipping into portals unseen that quiver upon memory and a haze of further meanings, set me into a mode of creative inquiry. A different state of being finding anything else an intrusion while seeking seclusion. The book has become a place I seek; wordless and serene. The early morning flower cupping the first rays of sun.

A sensitive mind filled with graceful thought faces the devastation of loss through her readings of
Helene Jeppesen
Mar 11, 2017 rated it did not like it
1.5/5 stars.
While I liked the concept of this book - which is that it is based on 4 different university lectures given my Ali Smith - and while some passages were thought-provoking and interesting, this just wasn't a book for me. I have to say that I actually found it a bit pretentious. It's a long piece of work on thoughts and digressions on, amongst other things, time and form, and these thoughts connect with a lot of literature (too much of it!) to be consistent and make sense, in my eyes.
Jan 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Reading this book of lectures made me want to reread Oliver Twist and since I'm not likely to do that anytime soon, I looked in my copy to see if Mudfog is mentioned or not mentioned in the very first paragraph and wondered if at the time I read it, I noticed that the Artful Dodger has dodged the summation of the last chapter.

Ali Smith is a genius, but not one of those geniuses who makes things hard to understand (dare I mention The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction); instead
Mar 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016, 5-stars
My review will be just two quotes lifted out of this amazing book.

"All the time I read this book I felt it was feeding me".


"We do treat books surprisingly lightly in contemporary culture. We’d never expect to understand a piece of music on one listen, but we tend to believe we’ve read a book after reading it just once."

Enough said. 5 stars. Straight to the top of my "To Be Reread" list.
Nov 24, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Antonomasia by: I love the cover.
Jan/Feb 2015. [4.5]

(Truly Madly Deeply x The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas) + fragments of essays on literature = Artful

Just lovely! I got it because it was my favouritest book cover I’d seen in ages (as said elsewhere, I don’t like many recent covers). The content wasn’t what I expected, but was, if anything, even nicer.

I daresay some friends have also had the experience that if something external makes you miserable whilst you’re reading a particular book, it often isn’t the right book any
Dec 26, 2017 rated it liked it
A rather odd book, fusing notes from a series of lectures on the arts that the author gave at Oxford with a meditation on grieving for a lost partner.

I wondered why the author chose to render this book as a work of fiction. Why not present the lectures in their final form for us to digest? As they are, the individual subjects hit chords that resonate but are not presented as a cohesive whole. The dead arts professor (a proxy for Smith, I take it) is memorialized by the narrator-lover who is a
Ned Rifle
Jan 14, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: from-library
I saw you last night, though you are now far away. I saw you and you saw what I was reading. You said you'd seen these lectures delivered. You looked appalled when I said that I really wasn’t enjoying them, and you chided me for my ignorance before asking why. As I rifled through the pages of the book looking for examples, another old friend came in and said what a great book it was. My frustration grew as I found it impossible to focus on the words, impossible to find anything at all in this, ...more
Abbie | ab_reads
Aug 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
Me before starting Artful: hmm I’m not really sure how much I’ll enjoy a book that’s a fusion of essay, literature lecture and fiction...
Ali Smith: Hold my beer.
Truly, I didn’t think I’d enjoy this one, and while there were some parts that went over my head (classic Ali Smith tbf) for the most part I was reading in sheer awe. This is Smith’s love letter to literature. She explores the myriad of ways literature can impact us, change our view of the world, the ways it can be read and reread and
Jenny (Reading Envy)
This book is a wee bit confusing. It is based on a series of lectures the author did at St. Anne's College at Oxford, but it is also a story of loss from the perspective of the left-behind lover of the dead lecturer. Except the author herself is the lecturer. You can see how this might be confusing.

There are a lot of literary and art references, all of which are highly documented in the back (including full-color photos!). I'm not sure I got a lot out of it, not nearly as much as I would have
Sep 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
"We do treat books surprisingly lightly in contemporary culture. We'd never expect to understand a piece of music on one listen, but we tend to believe we've read a book after reading it just once."
-Ali Smith, Artful.
How do I begin? Ali Smith enchanted me once more while reading Artful. I adored this book. Too much. Maybe I've fallen in love with the book way too much.
There was to much wit and tenderness in the book. This book is a product of four lectures, On time, On form, On edge and On
(No rating because I feel funny rating something I didn't understand)

I found this incredibly hard to follow and would be lying if I said I got much out of it. There were sections where I found I was beginning to understand what Smith was getting at, then it would change direction entirely and I would be completely lost again.

This is probably genius but 90% of it went over my head. I may revisit it in the future, but the least accessible book I have read by Smith so far.
Astrid Monteyne
Dec 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: british, favourites
Second read was even more intriguing, absolutely love Smith's endless references to phenomenal art(ists) and literature and her brilliantly complex fusion of fiction and essay form.
What a strange read. Not a novel, not an essay, not a series of lectures. But all of that, too. And a love letter at the same time. To a real person? To art, for sure. To words, and films, and music and books and stories. To myths and reflections. To change and transformation.

This is a book I will have to come back to. A book full of references. Some of which I knew, most of which I did not. A book on books - sometimes at least.
Vivek Tejuja
Jan 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The more I read interesting and different forms of the novel, the more I am convinced that the book cannot die. It shouldn’t and it will not. Reading will never go out of style, and Ali Smith is one of those authors that keep proving this time and again. I started reading her when I was about twenty four or so and haven’t stopped since then. All her books are quirky and have this mischief sense about them. This is what attracts me most to her books and her writing. If a writer can make me want ...more
Mar 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A blow-away book, this British novelist's 2012 Weidenfeld Lectures on comparative literature at Cambridge. A glancing sensibility, full of puns that lead to deeper thoughts in 4 lectures On Time, On Form, On Edge... For example, she asks us to consider in the Time section that literary time is not just sequence, but consequence; she brilliantly relates the root of "kindness" to family, old German kind, kinder, etc. Graspable literary reflections that stimulate and puzzle, contained within a ...more
Sep 29, 2014 rated it liked it

I enjoyed this because of its unique structure. It's really 4 essays, but also 4 sections of a novel. It crosses narrative with philosophical examinations of time, form, edge, and offering & reflection.

While I didn't understand some of it, I felt very enthralled by the way she weaves the genres. It is a quick read, intriguing, and insightful. Many great allusions to literature, film, art, etc.
Jul 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A beguiling, erudite, genre-defying mixture of fiction and literary criticism. The literary criticism is ostensibly presented as the work of a dead woman, who haunts the grieving narrator, her partner, whose visual interests are contrasted with the literary interests of the critic. These strands gradually intertwine. A unique mixture, which would probably reveal more on re-reading.
Paul Fulcher
Dec 09, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2016, goldsmiths-2013
It would maybe have been better if you could have come back from the dead a little differently. I mean if you could have come back as an array of different yous, like anyone with the originality of you when you were alive should naturally have done; for instance, if you'd come back as a dog, a mythical sort of one, one that could speak and would even occasionally do my bidding, occasionally sit at the table with me and converse while we ate our dinner, or if you'd come back as a small star, or a ...more
Aug 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Inarticulate rave to come.
Jan 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: theory
What a reading experience! My to-read-list has just grown enormously... I guess to get the full impact of this book I'll need to re-read it several times plus read a lot of the works Ali Smith makes references to. I love the mix between essay and fiction... the plot is really sad but not in a cliché kind of way. It is a book about loss but even more, I feel, about enrichment through art... what art can offer (and yes, in the sense it is described in the book). I am overwhelmed and can only ...more
Mind the Book
"Books need time to dawn on us, it takes time to understand what makes them, structurally, in thematic resonance, in afterthought, and always in correspondence with the books which came before them...

Visste att det var en essässamling jag hade framför mig. Var inte beredd på att det skulle handla så mycket om sorgebearbetning efter en älskad anhörig. Noterade en del diktrader och romantitlar under läsningen.
Jan 25, 2013 marked it as to-read
Shelves: to-read-soon
From a review by Word Bookstore: Smith's masterful fiction is not widely known in the U.S., but it should be. Her latest is a nonfiction rumination on the power and importance of art and storytelling. Creative nonfiction at its finest, this one reminds me of one of my other favorite British literary stylists, Jeanette Winterson.
May 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-i-own, uni
3.5 stars
John Madera
May 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Ali Smith's Artful artfully blurs the boundaries between ghost tale, memoir, and art and literary criticism, its glosses on work by Dickens, Stevens, Michelangelo, Carrington, Miłosz, Eluard, and many others, equally playful and illuminating, the strange conversations between the narrator and her dead lover reminding me of DeLillo's The Body Artist, her attempts to make sense of her lover's unfinished notes for lectures reminiscent of Angela Woodward's Natural Wonders: A Novel, where a widow ...more
Robin Stevens
Dec 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A strange, beautiful series of essays framed by a ghost story, this is about literature, film, poetry, love, trees and about a hundred other things. Ali Smith's writing is a work of art. (14+)

*Please note: this review is meant as a recommendation only. If you use it in any marketing material, online or anywhere on a published book without asking permission from me first, I will ask you to remove that use immediately. Thank you!*
Jun 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned, 2019
This was so profoundly beautiful and haunting, a journey through literature and expression of loss. Everything I hoped for and more.

I love books that make me want to read other books, and this book truly accomplishes that.
Ericka Clouther
Maybe not the best place to start with Ali Smith. I liked the language a lot and she made her grief beautiful and absurd in a way that I loved. But the essays are strange and disjointed. I also didn't really like Oliver Twist so Smith's comments on the book throughout left me a bit cold.
May 10, 2018 rated it liked it
A different but still same Ali Smith.
Not entirely what I was expecting of this, but nonetheless full of golden nuggets and literary love and a pleasure to read.
(She's still a queen, mind you)

Can you tell I'm not in reviewing mood? LOL SOZ
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Ali Smith is a writer, born in Inverness, Scotland, to working-class parents. She was raised in a council house in Inverness and now lives in Cambridge. She studied at Aberdeen, and then at Cambridge, for a Ph.D. that was never finished. In a 2004 interview with writing magazine Mslexia, she talked briefly about the difficulty of becoming ill with chronic fatigue syndrome for a year and how it ...more
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“To be known so well by someone is an unimaginable gift. But to be imagined so well by someone is even better.” 102 likes
“(this is before we're living together, before we do the most faithful act of all, mix our separate books into one library)” 26 likes
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