Posts tagged ‘Ali Smith’

November 19, 2017

Autumn by Ali Smith

by Team Riverside

Paperback, Penguin Random House, £8.99, out now

 

AutumnMuch has been made of the fact that this is Ali Smith’s “Brexit novel”, which in some ways is to do it a disservice. Because if, like me, the term “Brexit novel” makes you shudder internally and want to reach for the new Lee Childs instead, you’d be missing out on a fascinating entry which manages to look at our newly-divided Britain with a fresh eye.

The plot concerns the curious relationship between Elisabeth Demand, a precariously-employed “casual contract junior lecturer” visiting the town in which she grew up, and Daniel Gluck, her centenarian former neighbour who now lies dying in a hospice. But this is just the springboard from which Smith leads us through a whirlwind of dreams and memories, in tandem with her always-enjoyable day-to-day interactions deftly delivered with the usual eye for eccentricity.

And all this is of course set very much in the present, against the backdrop of the country’s historic decision to leave the EU. Working as she is in a medium where we’re used to clever allusions, parodies, fables and metaphors instead of approaching things head-on, there’s something almost illicitly exciting in the way she occasionally allows her asides about Brexit to be so on-the-nose, never shying away from directly addressing the matter at hand. This feels every inch a book written in the direct aftermath of the referendum, simultaneously angry, confused, ruminative, wounded and playful – which must be a very hard concoction to pull off as successfully as it is here.

At times it feels like Smith is examining this disorienting time in the same way that Gunter Grass so brilliantly tackled the incremental rise of Nazi Germany in The Tin Drum; by focusing alternately on scenes of domesticity, surreality and hard, painful truth.

And as in many of Smith’s novels, it’s somehow dreamlike yet relatable, like a glimpse inside a brain at once the same and totally different to your own. Written in the distinctly idiosyncratic prose – peppered with elastic quips, digressions through language and the occasional startling image – which has won her such a loyal fan-base, it’s no surprise that such a talented writer, wrestling with so seismic a period in our history, has turned out a piece of work as singular as this. Get it down you.

Review by Tom

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October 15, 2017

Moominland Midwinter by Tove Jansson

by Team Riverside

Hardback, Sort Of Books, £10.99, out nowTove Jansson MOOMINLAND MIDWINTER

One of the best book things ever has just happened to me.  I discovered that the Moomin prose books are not the same stories as the Moomin comic strips.  This means that there is a whole world of unknown Moomin that I can explore, and I can do it through the beautiful new hardback editions of four of the prose books just issued by Sort Of Books.  This is the reader equivalent of buried treasure.

Moomintroll wakes up from his winter hibernation early, and is surrounded by his sleeping family.  Feeling lonely, but also adventurous, he heads out to see what the winter world is like, and who he can find there.  He makes new friends, and their insights are valuable: after Moomintroll and Too-ticky see the Northern Lights, Too-ticky notes, “I’m thinking about the aurora borealis.  You can’t tell if it really does exist or if it just looks like existing.  All things are so very uncertain, and that’s exactly what makes me feel reassured”.  The gorgeous illustrations and fold out map (complete with Lonely Mountains and Grotto) complete the magic.

A long time fan of Jansson’s Summer Book, a novel for adults, I have found similar themes of kindness and adventure in her Moomin books (see Ali Smith on The Summer Book here – https://www.theguardian.com/books/2003/jul/12/fiction.alismith).  I agree absolutely with Philip Pullman when he writes: “Tove Jansson was a genius of a very subtle kind.  These simple stories resonate with profound and complex emotions that are like nothing else in literature for children or adults”.  I can vouch for the joy of reading them for the first time as an adult.  These are books for every human.  In case the books are not enough, I can also head to Dulwich Picture Gallery’s Tove Jansson exhibition (http://www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/2017/october/tove-jansson/).

There should be a word for the rare feeling that you get when reading a book that is new to you, but which you realise will be a favourite for the rest of your life.  There isn’t one that I can think of, but this book would have occasioned it.

Review by Bethan

August 9, 2015

Top 10 Fiction and Non-Fiction: August 2015

by Team Riverside

Harper Lee GO SET A WATCHMANLena Dunham NOT THAT KIND OF GIRL

No surprise this month – Harper Lee is back, back, back. The holiday reading season has also revived several titles including The Girl on the Train, which benefited from a Radio 4 adaptation. Incidentally, Go Set a Watchman is not the only literary sequel in town: The Meursalt Investigation is an Algerian writer’s companion novel to The Outsider, set 70 years after the Camus classic.

Top 10 Fiction

1 Go Set a Watchman – Harper Lee
2 The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins
3 How to Be Both – Ali Smith
4 Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage – Haruki Murakami
5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
6 The First Bad Man – Miranda July
7 The Bone Clocks – David Mitchell
8 The Paying Guests – Sarah Waters
9 Curtain Call – Anthony Quinn
10 The Meursalt Investigation – Kamel Daoud

Bubbling under: Wake Up, Sir! – Jonathan Ames

Top 10 Non-Fiction

1 Not That Kind of Girl – Lena Dunham
2 Gut: The Inside Story of our Body’s Most Underrated Organ – Giulia Enders
3 The Churchill Factor – Boris Johnson
4 Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind – Yuval Noah Harari
5 Think Like an Artist – Will Gompertz
6 Yes Please – Amy Poehler
7 London: A Travel Guide Through Time – Matthew Green
8 The Opposite of Loneliness – Marina Keegan
9 Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own – Kate Bolick
10 London Thames Path – David Fathers

Bubbling under: How We Are – Vincent Deary

July 2, 2015

Top 10 Fiction and Non-Fiction: July 2015

by Team Riverside

Ali Smith HOW TO BE BOTHGiulia Enders GUT

Readers are clearly in search of summer reads at the Riverside this month, and the big names – Smith, McEwan, Mitchell, Waters, Mantel – are moving fast. As always, non-fiction is where the more unexpected bestsellers crop up. Who’d have thought an illustrated exploration of the gut would be leading the pack? German microbiologist Giulia Enders explains how the gut is one of the most complex parts of our anatomy. It’s a sort of scientific toilet book that makes the case for digestive health. Nick Robinson’s election diary is also proving popular – the BBC man’s previous book was one of our political picks of 2013.

Top 10 Fiction

1 How to Be Both – Ali Smith
2 Us – David Nicholls
3 The Children Act – Ian McEwan
4 The Bees – Laline Paull
5 The Paying Guests – Sarah Waters
6 The Bone Clocks – David Mitchell
7 The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher – Hilary Mantel
8 The Monogram Murders – Sophie Hannah
9 Emma – Alexander McCall Smith
10 The Sunrise – Victoria Hislop

Bubbling under: 10:04 – Ben Lerner

Top 10 Non-Fiction

1 Gut: The Inside Story of our Body’s Most Underrated Organ – Giulia Enders
2 Yes Please – Amy Poehler
3 How We Learn – Benedict Carey
4 Ardennes 1944: Hitler’s Last Gamble – Antony Beevor
5 Election Notebook – Nick Robinson
6 Etape: The Untold Stories of the Tour de France’s Defining Stages – Richard Moore
7 Keeping an Eye Open: Essays on Art – Julian Barnes
8 Please, Mister Postman – Alan Johnson
9 Black Sea: Coasts and Conquests – From Pericles to Putin – Neal Ascherson
10 Jeremy Hutchinson’s Case Histories: From Lady Chatterley’s Lover to Howard Marks – Thomas Grant

Bubbling under: Trigger Warning: Is the Fear of Being Offensive Killing Free Speech? – Mick Hume