Year of the Monkey by Patti Smith

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Year of the Monkey by Patti Smith

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Category: Biography
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Luke Marlowe
Reviewed by Luke Marlowe
Summary: A summary of a difficult year in the life of punk, poet and performer Patti Smith, Year of the Monkey is a beautifully written collection of moments - snapshots of life, death, joy and suffering.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 192 Date: September 2019
Publisher: Bloomsbury
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781526614759

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On the coast of Santa Cruz, Patti Smith enters the lunar year of the monkey - one packed with mischief, sorrow, and unexpected moments. In a stranger's words, Anything is possible: after all, it's the year of the monkey. As Smith wanders the coast of Santa Cruz in solitude, she reflects on a year that brings huge shifts in her life - loss and ageing are faced head on, as it the shifting political waters in America.

Patti Smith is a singer-songwriter, musician, author and poet - probably best known for her 1975 album Horses, and subsequent single Because the Night in 1978. An unpredictable creative force, she's inspired huge numbers of musicians - R.E.M, Garbage, The Smiths, Hole, Madonna and Florence and the Machine among them. Her poems have been published since the early seventies, but her major publishing success was in 2010, with Just Kids - a memoir that documented Smith's early life and her relationship with the American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. This was followed by M-Train that took the reader into Smith's later life - so this series is nicely closed off by Year of the Monkey which simply follows Smith for one year.

For those (like myself) who enjoyed Smith's previous books, Year of the Monkey is quite a change - there's less biography here and more of a collection of moments - but all are told with such skill that it's just as enjoyable - Smith has a distinct style that allows her to employ a mix of recounted memory, poetic description, brief moments of fiction, and all brimming with heartfelt humanity, ensuring that this isn't just a readable book, but one I've found myself picking up again and again - getting lost in someone else's memories, aided immensely by the evocative personal polaroids that are scattered throughout the book.

Less of a memoir and more of a lyrical celebration and recollection of a year in the life of a remarkable woman, Year of the Monkey is unique, memorable, and hugely moving. Many thanks to the publishers for the copy, and for further reading I recommend Lowside of the Road: A Life of Tom Waits by Barney Hoskyns - a book similar to M-Train that explores the life of an artist who has always maintained individuality - never selling out but always embracing their unique offering and serving as both singer and poet - much like Patti Smith.

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