Year of the Monkey

Patti Smith

Year of the Monkey
Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
United Kingdom
1 December 2020

Year of the Monkey

Patti Smith

From the National Book Award-winning author of Just Kids and M Train, a profound, beautifully realized memoir in which dreams and reality are vividly woven into a tapestry of one transformative year.

Following a run of New Year’s concerts at San Francisco’s legendary Fillmore, Patti Smith finds herself tramping the coast of Santa Cruz, about to embark on a year of solitary wandering. Unfettered by logic or time, she draws us into her private wonderland, with no design yet heeding signs, including a talking sign that looms above her, prodding and sparring like the Cheshire Cat. In February, a surreal lunar year begins, bringing with it unexpected turns, heightened mischief, and inescapable sorrow. In a stranger’s words, Anything is possible: after all, it’s the year of the monkey.

For Patti Smith - inveterately curious, always exploring, tracking thoughts, writing the year evolves as one of reckoning with the changes in life’s gyre: with loss, aging, and a dramatic shift in the political landscape of America.

Smith melds the Western landscape with her own dreamscape. Taking us from Southern California to the Arizona desert; to a Kentucky farm as the amanuensis of a friend in crisis; to the hospital room of a valued mentor; and by turns to remembered and imagined places - this haunting memoir blends fact and fiction with poetic mastery. The unexpected happens; grief and disillusionment. But as Patti Smith heads toward a new decade in her own life, she offers this balm to the reader: her wisdom, wit, gimlet eye, and above all, a rugged hope of a better world.

Riveting, elegant, often humorous, illustrated by Smith’s signature Polaroids, Year of the Monkey is a moving and original work, a touchstone for our turbulent times.     


In the final song of possibly her most famous album, Patti Smith proclaims ‘I don’t know what to do tonight / there must be something I can dream tonight’. Horses was released in 1975, but with the advent of her new book The Year of the Monkey it is clear that Smith’s preoccupation with the intersection of dreams, life and art is abiding. In this work, which intentionally blurs the line between fiction and nonfiction, Smith moves through the year 2016 via the junction between dream and reality in order to explore the omnipresent phenomena of change. Providing the reader with an insight into temporal movements which are universally relatable and yet difficult to define. As Virginia Woolf famously remarked, ‘change was incessant, and change perhaps would never cease’.

In Year of the Monkey, Smith approaches change in its numerous facets as she drifts through the American landscape, having equally engaging conversations with her famed artistic milieu and ordinary people alike. These facets include but are not limited to mortality, politics and ecology. Known for her activism, it is unsurprising and clear that Smith is keen to use the book as an intervention into what she sees as impending (if not already arrived) catastrophe. However, these interventions never become didactic, and are instead woven effectively through her dreamscapes using magical realism and personal anecdote. The blurring of art and life has long been a central tenet of the avant-garde, and in this new book Smith again proves the personal is absolutely political.

Further to its political resonance, Smith’s poetic prowess is on full display in Year of the Monkey. Any fan of her extensive musical discography, as well as readers of Just Kids or M Train will find more to love in this new book from one of our greatest artists.

Jeremy George works as a bookseller at Readings Malvern.

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