This attractive little book by the wonderful Ali Smith features four short stories which interweave the disciplines of fiction, biography, and autobiography. Following on from the themes of last year’s masterpiece, Artful, Smith again presents a careful and original consideration of the effects of art and creativity on the human psyche. With two obscure but endlessly entertaining short fictions sandwiching two stories which mix the real and unreal, Smith once again displays her adaptability, her wit, and her ability to provoke sadness on the very same page which she has already produced a good few giggles.
The opening story in particular relates back to the themes of Artful, as we delve into the life of a grief-stricken protagonist who has just lost her husband, her lover, and her job, and now seems to be losing her health as a strange growth infects her body. This growth turns out to be a type of rosebush, which, as it grows and grows, brings with it the typical mix of emotions that make up a work by Smith. Befuddlement, wonder, sadness, and humour pop up throughout the story, infecting the reader as wholly as this rosebush infects our protagonist.
We later discover that the rose, Lycidas, is named after a lament written by John Milton. This is the first instance of a recurring theme in the book, as poetry and literature infect life, and their creators enjoy long lasting lives through the words the out to paper. Stories two and three in the collection mix biography, autobiography, and fiction. They give a fascinating insight into Smith’s home life, her leaving for university, and the formation of some of the crucial ideas that have guided her work. Mainly, they investigate her involvement with poet Oliver Fraser, and Cambridge Academic Helen Shire.
These two women, who had a huge impact on Smith, are represented through obituaries, career highlights, anecdotes, and, of course, their work. But they are also both painted in fictional accounts as Smith tries to create her own narrative about how Fraser and Shire came to be the people they were, and how they came to affect her life.
Any Cop?: Smith continues her tradition of writing experimental yet extremely honest and heartfelt writing. Shire falls slightly short of the power and impact of Artful, but is still doing something far more interesting that 99% of writing that will be released this year. Her skill in producing stories that weave fact and fiction is unmatched, and for Smith fans, this trip into her past is a very rewarding read.