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The Collage Police

Christian Lorentzen: Ali Smith

8 March 2018
by Ali Smith.
Penguin, 272 pp., £8.99, August 2017, 978 0 241 97331 8
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by Ali Smith.
Hamish Hamilton, 336 pp., £16.99, November 2017, 978 0 241 20702 4
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... Several factors​ contribute to the innocuousness of AliSmith’s current project. She’s now published two novels of her projected ‘Seasonal Quartet’: Autumn, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and Winter. These books don’t share characters or ...

The Absolute End

Theo Tait: Ali Smith

26 January 2012
There but for the 
by Ali Smith.
Hamish Hamilton, 356 pp., £16.99, June 2011, 978 0 241 14340 7
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... which books they ‘must’ include on the shortlist, and had reacted with fury when they were ignored. I felt especially sympathetic because one of the books whose absence was most complained of was AliSmith’s There but for the. Jeanette Winterson said that Smith’s novel, about a dinner-party guest who hides in his hosts’ spare bedroom and refuses to come out, was a ‘wonderful, word-playful ...

Dropped Stitches

Justine Jordan: Ali Smith

1 July 1999
Other Stories and Other Stories 
by Ali Smith.
Granta, 177 pp., £9.99, March 1999, 1 86207 186 1
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... There was once a story that was told by way of other stories,’ the narrator tells a lover in ‘A story of love’, the final piece in AliSmith’s second collection: ‘The end.’ This narrowly beats the previous shortest short story: ‘The last man on earth sat in a room. There came a knock at the door.’ In most of Smith’s stories ...

The day starts now

Eleanor Birne: On holiday with Ali Smith

23 June 2005
The Accidental 
by Ali Smith.
Hamish Hamilton, 306 pp., £14.99, May 2005, 0 241 14190 7
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... All three of AliSmith’s novels are set in holiday places. In Like (1997), Amy Shone and her daughter Kate live on a caravan site in Scotland; the characters of Hotel World (2001) are guests and workers at the Global ...

At the Hayward

Marina Warner: Tracey Emin

25 August 2011
... revelation is an art, and public intimacy – to use Giuliana Bruno’s phrase – requires crafty selection, decisions and deceptions. ‘Hotel International’ (1993) The American artist Kiki Smith is one of the women artist storytellers who ‘thinks with her body’ – as Emin learned to do, she tells us in her odd and powerful memoir Strangeland (2005), while growing up in Margate (the ...

Miss Dior, Prodigally Applied

Ian Patterson: Jilly Cooper

17 May 2017
by Jilly Cooper.
Corgi, 610 pp., £7.99, February 2017, 978 0 552 17028 4
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... sharp-witted, intelligent and acutely funny, with a penchant for the subversion latent in linguistic echoes and associations. Cooper shares a fondness for both wordplay and wise children with AliSmith, but while there are similarities in the way they behave and the fun they have with language, their presence in the text works in quite opposite ways. Smith uses her precocious girls to direct our ...


Stephen Smith: In Mogadishu

23 July 1992
... to a nicety, was gallingly down the hall from the guest in 901. Hardly had the United Somali Congress run Barre out of town than it stopped being united. A rift emerged between the interim president, Ali Mahdi Mohamed, and his chief of staff. General Mohamed Farah Aideed. It was a consequence of Ali Mahdi’s willingness to entertain the idea of a compromise with Barre. But its origins lie deeper, in ...

Play for Today

Adam Smyth: Rewriting ‘Pericles’

24 October 2019
by Ali Smith.
Hamish Hamilton, 336 pp., £16.99, March, 978 0 241 20704 8
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The Porpoise 
by Mark Haddon.
Chatto, 309 pp., £18.99, May, 978 1 78474 282 9
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... later:                               Ay me! poor maid, Born in a tempest, when my mother died, This world to me is like a lasting storm, Whirring me from my friends. AliSmith’s​  Spring is patterned with references to Pericles and has, at its heart, narratives of migration against the odds, and family separation and reunion. It isn’t an adaptation because ...

It has burned my heart

Anna Della Subin: Lives of Muhammad

21 October 2015
The Lives of Muhammad 
by Kecia Ali.
Harvard, 342 pp., £22.95, October 2014, 978 0 674 05060 0
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... and his chaplain Samuel Purchas, Catholicism had a parallel in ‘Persian’ or Shia Islam, and Protestantism in ‘Turk’ or Sunni Islam. An arch-nemesis was invented for Muhammad called ‘Mortus Ali’, a mutation of the prophet’s son-in-law Ali, venerated by Shiites as the first imam. In 1649, not long after the execution of Charles I, the first English translation of the Quran appeared. Its ...


Rory Stewart: In Afghanistan

11 July 2002
... When Ali brought out his Koran I thought of Tony Blair. It was February 2002. The Taliban had retreated, having burned Ali’s village to the ground. Four feet of snow had closed the passes into Bamiyan and all the roads were laid with anti-vehicle mines. Ali opened the carved wooden box, kissed the bundle, unwrapped it ...

Fundamentally Goyish

James Wood: Zadie Smith

3 October 2002
The Autograph Man 
by Zadie Smith.
Hamish Hamilton, 420 pp., £16.99, September 2002, 0 241 13998 8
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... mail fraudster and insurance scam artist, one-time inmate of Lorton penitentiary, now a computer whizz kid with EkaSystems Inc, and earning at least half a million a year . . . Alas, much of Zadie Smith’s second novel reads like this. (It’s better written, but she had two years, and I had two minutes.) White Teeth, for all its many miracles, occasionally revealed a cartoonish energy that at ...


Joanna Biggs: Zadie Smith

1 December 2016
Swing Time 
by Zadie Smith.
Hamish Hamilton, 453 pp., £18.99, November 2016, 978 0 241 14415 2
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... The ends​ of great fiction do not change, much,’ Zadie Smith wrote eight years ago in an essay about David Foster Wallace. ‘But the means do.’ She was between novels: three years had passed since her most traditional, On Beauty, was published; NW, her most ...

Travelling Text

Marina Warner: ‘The Arabian Nights’

18 December 2008
The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1001 Nights 
translated by Malcolm Lyons, with Ursula Lyons.
Penguin, 2715 pp., £125, November 2008, 978 0 14 091166 4
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‘The Arabian Nights’ in Historical Context: Between East and West 
edited by Saree Makdisi and Felicity Nussbaum.
Oxford, 337 pp., £55, November 2008, 978 0 19 955415 7
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... and made to express fantasy. The most popular tales of all, the ones that have become synonymous with The Arabian Nights and have been retold in children’s books and films (‘Aladdin’, ‘Ali Baba’, ‘The Ebony Horse’, ‘Prince Ahmed and the Fairy Peri Banou’), are probably Galland’s invention, concocted of pomegranates and ebony, damask and jasmine, in tribute to the style of ...

Nodding and Winking

Stephen W. Smith: Françafrique

11 February 2010
... France’s notorious African networks – les réseaux, as they’re known – had tried to help me. He was on holiday in Florida at the time but he’d rung up the top brass in Libreville, including Ali Bongo Ondimba, the son and likely successor of Omar Bongo Ondimba, Gabon’s ruler for 42 years, who’d died a few weeks earlier. In 1967, Bongo Sr, then 32 and an early recruit to the French secret ...

Agents of Their Own Abuse

Jacqueline Rose: The Treatment of Migrant Women

10 October 2019
... you think about this, you will do as we say, which will be in your interest.’ No one, including visitors (rare) or investigators (even rarer), is spared. ‘We will do as we are told,’ the writer AliSmith thinks to herself as she makes her way through the four security checks on the way to the cell of the detainee she has been given permission to meet. When one trafficked woman refused to ...

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