The latest addition to my website is Ali Smith‘s Spring. This is another superb novel from Smith in her four-seasons tetralogy. The key theme in this book is the harsh treatment meted out to refugees in the UK but there is much, more more to the novel. We follow two stories. Richard Lease is a TV director. He has not worked for a while and is asked to direct a sexed-up version of a novel which tells of Katherine Mansfield and Rainer Maria Rilke who apparently stayed in the same remote Swiss hotel at around the same time in 1922 but probably never met. Meanwhile his great friend and normal scriptwriter, Paddy Neal is dying and does die. He can take no more and heads off to Scotland, getting off at Kingussie. Also heading for Kingussie are Britt and Florence. Britt works for a security company in an Immigration Removal Centre, while Florence is a strange twelve-year old girl, who managed to get changes made at the Centre and has an unusual effect on most people she meets. Smith raises many themes, from grief to clouds, from women artists to Brexit, from dumbing down to the UK government austerity programme, all leading to another first-class work.
The latest addition to my website is A L Kennedy‘s The Little Snake, a children’s fable for adults, in the style of Le petit prince (The Little Prince). The eponymous little snake is both the Angel of Death (at least where nasty cruel rich and powerful people are concerned) and a friend to the very good, such as our heroine Mary, whom we and the snake first meet as a young girl. Mary lives in a divided city, with the very rich and very poor. During the course of the book, things get worse, but the snake, when not killing the rich and powerful, helps Mary and her family, who eventually have to leave the city, with conditions having deteriorated so much. It is an amusing fable and a good read for both children and adults, not mawkish or trite and not averse to making its political point.
The latest addition to my website is Ali Smith‘s Winter. This is the second novel in her seasonal tetralogy. It tells the story of a dysfunctional family. The oldest sister, Iris, has strong left-wing views and is thrown out of the house by her father. Sophia, her younger sister, behaves and is responsible and goes on to become a successful businesswoman. She has a son, Arthur (Art) from a casual affair. Neither sister married and both are now old and not speaking to one another. Having broken off with his girlfriend, Charlotte, Arthur now turns up for Christmas at his mother’s huge house in Cornwall (where she lives alone) accompanied by a substitute, hired Charlotte, in the form of Lux. Iris is summoned as Sophia seem to be not eating and is accompanied by a strange, disembodied head and the four spend Christmas together where the past is aired, relationships discussed and challenged and topics such as Brexit, refugees, environmental politics and Greenham Common the subject of conversation. Smith makes her point about her issues but also about working together for the common good, something she feels that we do not do well either as a country or individuals.
The latest addition to my website is Ali Smith‘s Autumn. This is the first in Ali Smith’s four Seasons series of novels and, apparently, the first post-Brexit novel. It tells the story of Elisabeth Demand who, when a young child, lives next door to Daniel Gluck, a man sixty-nine years older than her, who becomes her unofficial babysitter. They share stories and she admires his taste in music and in art. Indeed, when she comes to study art as an adult, it is Pauline Boty, the relatively little known only female British Pop Art painter she writes her thesis on, despite her male tutor looking down on Boty. In later life, when she is thirty-two, Elisabeth visits Daniel, now 101, in the care home, apparently his only visitor. Feminism, time and the shortness of time left and Brexit and its generally negative effects are the key themes of the work. I found it somewhat bitty but still a worthwhile novel.
The latest addition to my website is Ali Smith‘s How to Be Both. This book tells two stories and, when it was originally published, half were printed with one first and the other half with the other one first. The first one (that I read) concerned the Italian painter Francesco del Cossa, known for his frescoes in Ferrara. The second story concerns George, a sixteen-year old English girl, whose mother suddenly died recently. Cross-dressing, gender fluidity and bisexuality are the both of the title though they do not figure prominently. The two are connected as, before her death, Carol George’s mother, takes George and her brother to Ferrara to see the frescoes. Carol is also an Internet rebel (Google bombing) and highly critical of certain politicians and, as a result, may or may not be under surveillance. I found the novel somewhat rambling but the George story was certainly more interesting than the Ferrara one.
The latest addition to my website is Ali Smith‘s There But For The. This is another original novel from Ali Smith, telling the tale of Miles Garth, who is invited to a posh dinner party in Greenwich (London) and subsequently locks himself in the spare bedroom, refusing to come out or to talk to anyone about it. We follow the stories of four people who had tangential connections to him but no-one seems to know him well. We also follow the publicity his actions generate and how people cash on his temporary celebrity. Hovering around it all is Brooke, a ten year old neighbour who tells terrible jokes, learns facts from the Internet and seems to be more of a voice of reason than any of the adults. It is clever, witty (and satirical) and most original.
The latest addition to my website is Ali Smith‘s The Accidental. This takes as its theme a partially dysfunctional family: mother, two children, father (second marriage) who are disrupted by the arrival of a stranger out of the blue who changes them all in various ways, both when she is there and after she has left, not necessarily for the better. The philandering stepfather, the mother, a writer, appropriating the lives of real people, the seventeen-year old son responsible for the death of a girl at his school and the twelve-year old who is bullied all confront their issues following the arrival of Amber. The idea is not original but Ali Smith, as always, carries out it very well, not going for the easy options and keeping us guessing.
The latest addition to my website is Ali Smith‘s Hotel World. This tells the stories of five women all associated in some way with the Global Hotel, located in an unspecified UK city. The story starts with the ghost of a chambermaid who was killed on the second day on the job when she got into the dumb waiter, which could not hold her weight. We also meet a homeless woman begging outside the hotel, a receptionist, a guest and the younger sister of the dead woman. All have issues, none seem happy and none seem to have any friend and none seem to be in romantic relationship. Their interactions and their struggles with life, told in a fairly post-modernist manner, are superbly portrayed by Ali Smith in this novel.
The latest addition to my website is Ali Smith‘s Like. This is Ali Smith’s first novel and a very accomplished novel it is. It tells two related stories. Amy was destined for an academic career at Cambridge University. She had had lesbian relationships and, in particular, she was having an on-again off-again affair with Aisling McCarthy, a Scottish woman. It all went drastically wrong. Amy has had a breakdown and now is living in Scotland with her seven-year old daughter, Kate, working on a caravan site and apparently unable to read. Aisling McCarthy went on to become a famous actress but seems to have dropped out. We follow her lesbian relationships at school, culminating in her meeting Amy, and later following Amy to Cambridge, where she causes the downfall not only of Amy but another woman with whom she had had an affair. The story is narrated from the present day, first by Amy and Kate and then by Aisling. Smith tells an excellent story and pulls us into the story of the two women and young girl.
The latest addition to my website is Angus Robertson‘s An t-Ogha Mór: No, Am Fear-Sgeòil air Uilinn (The Ogha Mor). This was the the second Scots Gaelic novel written and the first to be translated into English. It isn’t a very good novel, written in a stilted, forced archaic style and starts off plot lines and then abandons them. Its basic theme is the clash between the clans, particularly following the Jacobite of Rising of 1715 and leading to the 1745 Rising. We follow the stories of a few individuals involved in the fight for or against the Stuart cause and see the evil and treacherous plotting of the anti-Stuarts (including the then Prince of Wales) and the brave and honest actions of the pro-Stuarts. It is an interesting read but it is easy to see why the English translation is long since out of print and difficult to obtain, though the Gaelic version is still available.