#HERcollective Contributor: Erin K. Hooper
on Artful by Ali Smith & Beloved by Toni Morrison
“Then I looked up over the top of the open book because it sounded like someone was coming up the stairs. Someone was. It was you.” Artful pg. 9
“A fully dressed woman walked out of the water. […] She had new skin, lineless and smooth, including the knuckles of her hands.” Beloved pg. 60-61
In Ali Smith’s Artful, She comes back one year and one day after her death.
She is never named, so I am naming her She.
She walks into the study where her partner is reading Oliver Twist.
The partner, too, is not named, so I am naming them Partner.
She has forgotten words. Words were her work.
She is covered in dust and bits of rubble.
In Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Beloved comes back eighteen years after her death.
Beloved is grown as many years.
Beloved is sleeping against a tree when she is found, but not yet known, by her mother, Sethe.
Beloved is wearing new clothes and shoes.
Haunting not passively, spiritually, conceptually; She and Beloved are bodied. Grief, the space left by death, is occupied, personified.
“Books need time to dawn on us, it takes time to understand what makes them, structurally, in thematic resonance, in afterthought, and always in correspondence with the books which came before them…” Artful pg. 31
“…And suddenly there was Sweet Home rolling, rolling, rolling out before her eyes, and although there was not a leaf on that farm that did not make her want to scream, it rolled itself out before her in shameless beauty. […] Boys hanging from the most beautiful sycamores in the world. It shamed her — remembering the wonderful soughing trees rather than the boys. Try as she might to make it otherwise, the sycamores beat out the children every time and she could not forgive her memory for that.” Beloved pg. 7
There is trauma in Beloved. Expansive trauma.
The book is soaked through and dripping with it.
Not so in Artful. Artful’s world is easier, academic, modern, safe.
There is trauma, sure, in that there is death, and death will always have trauma as a companion, but the scale is incomparable to that which all characters have experienced in Beloved.
Beloved’s death is a violent one.
Sethe is an escaped slave.
Sethe’s life is tightly wrapped in hurt.
What is it to return?
There is a fixation and, a focus.
No longer of the past.
“‘Let the children come!’ and they ran from the trees […]
‘Let your mothers hear you laugh,’” Beloved pg. 103
It isn’t good, actually, to have the dead return. For all the crying of the living, the wishing for an undoing, what is one to do with a person returned?
Time complicates our wanting.
Is it possible to love enough?
To right things?
It grates and wears and exhausts, grief-given a body.
Can you show enough joy? Remorse?
She steals. At first her own belongings. Then random objects from around the house. Things just up and disappear.
She steals a book from a charity shop.
She is decaying.
Partner cannot decide how to progress. Is this grief?
There are smells.
Her nose is gone one day. Partner makes her one from paper.
So her glasses won’t fall off.
She is distracted, distant, even as they are in the same room.
Beloved eats and eats. She gets the first, the best, of everything. Beloved swells as her mother and sister shrink.
Sethe cannot tell enough stories. She cannot find enough ways to show Beloved her despair and guilt and shame over Beloved’s death.
Beloved throws fits. She consumes the house.
Beloved is found sleeping against a tree.
Trees are everywhere in both books.
Partner’s work is trees.
Bodies hang from trees.
You can find your way by trees.
“‘That way’ he said, pointing. ‘Follow the tree flowers,’ he said. ‘Only the tree flowers. As they go, you go. You will be where you want to be when they are gone.’” Beloved pg. 132
“Unlike flowers which die right down every year and have to start all over again, break the surface again, trees can keep going from where they left off.” Artful pg. 40
Beloved, maybe, is flowers.
Are the dead flowers and is that why their perfumes make us sick and sad and in love?
On offer and on reflection.
“I am Beloved and she is mine. I see her take flowers away from leaves she puts them in a round basket the leaves are not for her she fills the basket she opens grass” Beloved pg. 248
“Ah, I’d let a hand like yours take me anywhere, even down a path strewn with bones like the floor of the cave I’d seen in the film by Werner Herzog, the Cauvet cave in France where they discovered all those tens-of-thousands-of-years-old animal pictures on the walls, the beautiful four heads of the horses, the creatures with long sweeps of horn. Above the bones the earliest art. Even on a path strewn with bones like that I’d be okay in your good hand.”Artful pg. 141
“Erin K Hooper is an artist living and working in Toronto, Canada. her work can be found at erinkhooper.com“
- Beloved by Vintage Books, A Division of Random House, Inc.
- Artful by Penguin Books.