Ali Smith: Novel needed more than ever in dark times of Brexit

Ali Smith told Nicola Sturgeon that the art form could be a 'unifying force' in the face of division. Picture: Lisa Ferguson.
Ali Smith told Nicola Sturgeon that the art form could be a 'unifying force' in the face of division. Picture: Lisa Ferguson.
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Art is needed now more than ever to breach the political divides of Brexit, Ali Smith has told Scotland’s First Minister.

The author of the acclaimed Autumn and Winter - two books from a planned quartet of contemporary novels - told Nicola Sturgeon that the art form could be a “unifying force” in the face of division.

The two were speaking in conversation at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, where Ms Sturgeon acknowledged that politicians were often the cause of such division.

She said: “As a politician I’m acutely aware, and it’s something I think about a lot, that politicians by definition we’re opinionated, we put forward strong views on policies, we’re sometimes the cause or a cause of the division.

“Also how we communicate now seems to reinforce those divisions, it pushes people to take sides and simplify things.

“Is there a case right now that either through the form of the novel or the perspective of the writer, that perspective is actually much much more needed than perhaps has been in our lifetimes?”

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Ms Smith responded: “The novel is a unifying force. All art reminds us to engage and it reminds us to enter, even just with itself, dialogue. Dialogue is the source of life.

“The point at which you actually talk to somebody rather than block that story that’s coming from someone else, the point at which the stories meet and become one story instead of separate stories on competing sides of the walls and fences - which politics across the world at the moment is not just threatening us with, but building.”

Ms Smith said this was “the darkest time that I’ve ever lived in”.

She said: “In our lives, across the world from this country outwards, from the UK outwards it’s a dark, dark premise.

“With nobody interested in the UK Government in those splits...to try to heal the thing that is revealed by Brexit. Everybody vying for power in a way that is absolutely terrifying.”

But she told the First Minister, who said most would recognise to some extent the current time as “a dark place, a worrying place” that the novel was ultimately a form that gave hope for the future.

Read more: Edinburgh Book Festival: Reaping the rewards of confounded expectations