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Autumn

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Daniel is a century old. Elisabeth, born in 1984, has her eye on the future. The United Kingdom is in pieces, divided by a historic once-in-a-generation summer. Love is won, love is lost. Hope is hand in hand with hopelessness. The seasons roll round, as ever...


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Daniel is a century old. Elisabeth, born in 1984, has her eye on the future. The United Kingdom is in pieces, divided by a historic once-in-a-generation summer. Love is won, love is lost. Hope is hand in hand with hopelessness. The seasons roll round, as ever...

30 review for Autumn

  1. 4 out of 5

    Adina

    I don’t know. I don’t know what to write about Autumn. I don’t even know what I’ve read. What was I supposed to get from this book, what was the purpose? Was it a Brexit novel? I don’t think so. It does talk some about Brexit. But it also talks about a strange friendship between a little girl (presently grown up) and an old man. Odd conversations those two had. And about a dubious Pop Artist. There were also a few weird, moderately fun, post office conversations. There were some interesting part I don’t know. I don’t know what to write about Autumn. I don’t even know what I’ve read. What was I supposed to get from this book, what was the purpose? Was it a Brexit novel? I don’t think so. It does talk some about Brexit. But it also talks about a strange friendship between a little girl (presently grown up) and an old man. Odd conversations those two had. And about a dubious Pop Artist. There were also a few weird, moderately fun, post office conversations. There were some interesting parts and some parts that I could not get, no matter how much I was frowning at the page. There were jumps from one time line to another. There were dreams, death dreams There were quotations from books. There were other stuff that I did not care for or had any idea what they meant. Something about a sexual scandal. As you can see, I cannot write a coherent review because I did not think the book was coherent either. I get it, I appreciate the originality and all. That’s why I’m giving it 3 stars. There were good parts, I even smiled once or twice but I cannot say I enjoyed the experience. Most likely, I am not the right person to read Ali Smith. Sorry I cannot do better. To make up for it will post the visual opinion of my cat on this novel. I have the impression she enjoyed it more than I did. She thinks it tasted delicious. I know, I know. Cat pictures for a serious book shortlisted to the Booker Prize. I don’t care. The author spent half the book writing about some strange collages of a Pop Art painter with all the details included, so I can do whatever I want with my review. It is another form of art, isn’t it? . I've probably gone mad.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Ilse

    This is England Autumn is the first instalment of Ali Smith’s ‘seasonal quartet’ - a cycle ‘exploring the subjective experience of time, questioning the nature of time itself'. Triggered to read it by the title – autumn is my favourite season – this first episode was a wondrous introduction to Smith’s writing for me. Awaiting, anticipating, wondering about the next episodes to come – which characters would return, which artists Ali Smith would spotlight - was an integral part of the marvellous an This is England Autumn is the first instalment of Ali Smith’s ‘seasonal quartet’ - a cycle ‘exploring the subjective experience of time, questioning the nature of time itself'. Triggered to read it by the title – autumn is my favourite season – this first episode was a wondrous introduction to Smith’s writing for me. Awaiting, anticipating, wondering about the next episodes to come – which characters would return, which artists Ali Smith would spotlight - was an integral part of the marvellous and exhilarating experience that was reading the entire cycle in order of appearance. Autumn is a playful, multi-layered and at times delectably subversive novel on the floating of time, aging, identity, art, love and friendship, grounded knee-deep in the grim realities of today’s post-truth politics, against the backdrop of the aftermath of the Brexit-vote. Set right here, right now, the story time-travels back and forth between the past and the present. Since primary school, Elisabeth, now 32 and an art history lecturer, and her next-door neighbour, Daniel Gluck, about 70 years her senior, are close friends. Both soulmates are bruised - Elisabeth is fatherless and Daniel is alone. From flashbacks and dreams, we learn from their childhood and past. While Daniel – a collector of ‘arty art’ - has awakened Elisabeth’s sensibility to art and honed her skills of critical thinking, encouraging her to be a girl ‘reading the world’, Elisabeth now spends hours next to his bed while he dozes off in a care home, reading Shakespeare and Huxley to him. What you reading? Always be reading something, he said. Even when we’re not physically reading. How else will we read the world? Think of it as a constant. Smith parallels two key moments in recent history and present day UK by connecting them both to dishonesties in politics, suggesting these lies had critical impact on society, the Brexit vote and the Profumo Scandal of 1963. She astutely smuggles the latter into the novel by interlacing the scandal and the life of her main characters, Daniel and Elisabeth, with the vibrant and tragically short life of Pauline Boty (1938-1966), the only female representative artist in British Pop Art, whose legacy is continuously oscillating between oblivion and rediscovery. Pauline Boty used a shot of the famous chair photograph series by Lewis Morley of the women at the heart of the Profumo scandal, Christine Keeler, in a collage painting which has been mysteriously missing soon after she had painted it, Scandal ‘63. To say the least, these lies make people sick: She hadn’t known that proximity to lies, even just reading about them, could make you feel so ill. By showing the effect of lies by the powerful on society, how they divide people and infuriate them, Smith makes one ponder on the significance of truth. Is there really anything new under the sun in this acrimonious year of the prevalence of post-truth politics? Or it is just an illustration of the unchangeable nature of power and the corroded order of things? By reviving feminist artist Pauline Boty, Smith thematises the position of women in modern art. Some titles of Boty’s paintings, like ‘It’s a man’s world’ speak volumes in that respect. Smith’s Boty proclaims I am a person. I’m an intelligent nakedness. An intellectual body. I’m a bodily intelligence. Art’s full of nudes and I’m a thinking, choosing nude. I’m the artist as nude. I’m the nude as artist’.. This assertion reminded me of the mission statement of the Guerrilla Girls, a feminist group denouncing discrimination, tracking and keeping statistics on the representation of female artists in museums. Art still is a man’s world, to a very high extent. However obvious Smith’s sympathies in the debate, do not expect pure doom and gloom. Instead of wallowing in woeful defeatism, the characters shine in heart-warming and infectious combativeness and witty insurgence. The Kafkaesque scenes at the post office resemble absurdist sketches, while they are at the same time a virulent critique on the ridiculously bureaucratic demands regulation imposes on people - and on a society that turns a blind eye to the homeless which have to shelter in public buildings, without anyone blinking. The energetic pace of the writing, brimming with jocular wordplay, literary references and puns smoothly coincides with the melancholic undercurrent of this novel, as Autumn breathes an atmosphere of transience. People die, at young age. Everything is temporary, like the leaves falling in autumn. Entering history equals finding ‘endless sad fragility’: Elisabeth had last come to the field just after the circus had left, especially to look at the flat dry place where the circus had had its tent. She liked doing melancholy things like that. But now you couldn’t tell that any of these summer things had ever happened. There was just an empty field. The sports tracks had faded and gone. The flattened grass, the places that had turned to mud where the crowds had wandered round between the rides and the open-sided trucks of the driving and shooting games, the ghost circus ring: nothing but grass. Il faut reculer pour mieux sauter. Perhaps one could say that Ali Smith in a way indulges in facile preaching to the choir, mollycoddling the right-minded citizens mourning the present state of the world. But why not just delight in her eloquently phrased discourse and lithe sentences, nodding approvingly while licking one’s wounds instead of sinking into despair? Fite dem Back. I thank NetGalley, Penguin and Ali Smith for granting me an ARC.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Fionnuala

    What are you reading? A tale of two people. Tell me about it. It's a book full of leaves, green ones and brown ones. And white ones too, of course. Ha! But seriously, describe it to me. It's a book with a hole in the middle. Now you're just being absurd. No, wait. There's really as much absence as presence in this book. Tell me what's in it, not what's not in it. It's a book of fragments that fit together in odd arrangements. Give me an example of the way the fragments fit together. There's a sister who What are you reading? A tale of two people. Tell me about it. It's a book full of leaves, green ones and brown ones. And white ones too, of course. Ha! But seriously, describe it to me. It's a book with a hole in the middle. Now you're just being absurd. No, wait. There's really as much absence as presence in this book. Tell me what's in it, not what's not in it. It's a book of fragments that fit together in odd arrangements. Give me an example of the way the fragments fit together. There's a sister who doesn't exist and a sister who no longer exists. Not bad. Give me another fragment. There are people who use the word Home when they really mean Away, as in Go ----. Oh, right. Brexit. There are lies about lying about lies about lying. Please give me something that's not about politicians. There's a time that's really a place. Give me something less abstract. A giant soldier squashes a woman with his boot. Argh!! Don't tell me anything else about this book. Would it be ok if it wasn't a giant soldier but just a man, and he squashed a mouse not a person? No! Definitely not! Maybe you could tell me what isn't in the book instead of giving me such freaky fragments. ====== ……… ======= ……… ====== ……… Why are you holding your breath like that? Because the unsaid in this book lies in the gaps between breaths. Normal people don't have gaps in their breathing. A person who is breathing his last might—if he had enough luck to die leisurely. So what do those gaps tell about? The black hole in twentieth century history. Just say the Holocaust. Did you know 'holo' means 'whole' and 'caust' means destroyed by fire? So? So the entire word means an absence in a presence, the 'hole' in 'whole'. Wait a minute. Is that interpretation of the term 'Holocaust' in the book? Well, no. But you can read it between the leaves...

  4. 4 out of 5

    Barry Pierce

    2020 update: this is still amazing. Hailed as the first post-Brexit novel, in Autumn Ali Smith proves to us all that she is probably the greatest writer currently working in the United Kingdom. The fact that this novel was published a mere four months after the disastrous Brexit vote but yet analyses its aftermath as a central theme shows a turnaround that is nearly insane. Smith must have practically vomited this novel into her word processor, which makes its utter flawlessness almost divine 2020 update: this is still amazing. Hailed as the first post-Brexit novel, in Autumn Ali Smith proves to us all that she is probably the greatest writer currently working in the United Kingdom. The fact that this novel was published a mere four months after the disastrous Brexit vote but yet analyses its aftermath as a central theme shows a turnaround that is nearly insane. Smith must have practically vomited this novel into her word processor, which makes its utter flawlessness almost divine. The novel begins with a man, Daniel Gluck, who seems to have washed up on a beach. Believing he has died he casts his eye along the beach and sees even more like him. The corpses of refugees line the beach, interspersed between lounging sunbathers and laughing children who seem to take no notice of the corpses around them. This opening scene demonstrates Smith's intent with Autumn, she is writing a Zeitgeist novel. Luckily for Daniel, this scene is all a dream, as he is in a coma. Most days, in the chair beside him is a woman who the nurses believe is his granddaughter. She is no relation. She is Elisabeth (with an S) Demand (from the French, Du Monde). She is the tentpole upon which this novel drapes. Autumn is a exploration of her life and of those around her. But it is also a study of every person living in Great Britain post-Brexit. It is the story of Christine Keeler, yes THAT Christine Keeler, of Profumo fame. And it is the story of Pauline Boty. But I'll let you discover the wonder that she was. Autumn is oftentimes hilarious, touching, informative and playful. Smith is still the master of structure and form and plays around with each like a master conductor. There are no flaws in this novel. If I had read it when it was published Autumn would have by far been my favourite novel of the year. Ali Smith can do no wrong.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    Ali Smith is not an easy author to read and yet her words and thoughts are beautiful. If you like a linear plot, you will not find it here, though it is mostly set in the period after Brexit, it goes back and forth in time. To a friendship between a young girl and an elderly man, a man who had quite a past, which is slowly uncovered. The thoughts expressed about Brexit are the same many are expressing here in the states after our recent election. Wonderfully and adroitly expressed about the way Ali Smith is not an easy author to read and yet her words and thoughts are beautiful. If you like a linear plot, you will not find it here, though it is mostly set in the period after Brexit, it goes back and forth in time. To a friendship between a young girl and an elderly man, a man who had quite a past, which is slowly uncovered. The thoughts expressed about Brexit are the same many are expressing here in the states after our recent election. Wonderfully and adroitly expressed about the way many of us feel. She loves to play with words, play with scenes, this is sometimes challenging but if you just read, not expecting her to follow the supposed rules of fiction, these things are often delightful. She explores time, it's passing, autumn into winter, past into present, young into old, as the seasons change so do we. She throws in a pop artist, the Christine Keeler scandal, which I had to look up not being from Britain. Her description of the natural world absolutely gorgeous. As I was reading at times I was frustrated, wondering where could she possibly be going with this? Why does she throw this in? Yet, at books end I find myself thinking of what she wrote, wishing I understood more, but finding it nonetheless undeniably imprinted in my mind. May have to reread at a later point. ARC from publisher.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Violet wells

    I was struggling with this initially. Ali Smith's prose style reminds me of someone dressed in a dressing gown and slippers, hair unbrushed, wandering about a house with barely a grain of self-consciousness. In stark contrast to lots of writers who spend hours in front the mirror, layering on embellishment after embellishment, before they take a step onto the page. Smith can give the impression of voicing aloud her thoughts the moment she has them. No artificial colouring or sweetening additives I was struggling with this initially. Ali Smith's prose style reminds me of someone dressed in a dressing gown and slippers, hair unbrushed, wandering about a house with barely a grain of self-consciousness. In stark contrast to lots of writers who spend hours in front the mirror, layering on embellishment after embellishment, before they take a step onto the page. Smith can give the impression of voicing aloud her thoughts the moment she has them. No artificial colouring or sweetening additives. The petty mixed in with the profound. This is what this book felt like for a while. A woman walking about in her dressing gown and slippers making up a story as she went along, sometimes becoming distracted by trifles, sometimes making a discovery of historic importance. But I should have known it's more the architecture of the novel Smith is fascinated by than wordsmithery or sentence writing and there comes a moment in this novel where everything suddenly shiningly adheres. It's an exciting moment and there's no looking back afterwards. It's a novel with a huge heart and an urgent though subtly interwoven warning about making rash prejudicial judgements. Especially with regard to our neighbours. 4.5 stars from me.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Charlotte May

    Ok so.... I didn’t really get it 🤷‍♀️ I think I'm just going to have to stay away from the Booker Nominees. There always seems to be some hidden secret that everyone else knows, which gives the book 5 star reviews, while I sit here just....lost. Autumn is written in non-linear prose. Which is a good starting point as to why I didn't like it - I can't get with that type of writing. I like my stories in some kind of order, at the very least. In Autumn we jump from Elisabeth as a child, hanging out w Ok so.... I didn’t really get it 🤷‍♀️ I think I'm just going to have to stay away from the Booker Nominees. There always seems to be some hidden secret that everyone else knows, which gives the book 5 star reviews, while I sit here just....lost. Autumn is written in non-linear prose. Which is a good starting point as to why I didn't like it - I can't get with that type of writing. I like my stories in some kind of order, at the very least. In Autumn we jump from Elisabeth as a child, hanging out with her 80 year old next door neighbour, Daniel; to her visiting Daniel in a home when Elisabeth is suddenly an adult. There are paragraphs which really resonated with me. There was a focus on Brexit and how it has altered people's behaviour and attitudes toward one another, I liked that. But just as soon as a section like that arrived, it would jump to some long tedious conversation between Elisabeth and the staff member in the Post Office. I was just stumped. I'm not sure what the point was, if there is even supposed to be one. I'm really happy for those who enjoyed this - they clearly 'got' something that I have missed... but there we are. Onwards and upwards I guess.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Hugh

    My fourth book from the Booker longlist, this is another that, like Reservoir 13, would have made a worthy winner. At the time of its release this book was billed as the first Brexit novel, but there is so much more to it than that. update 19 Oct - Sadly, and yet again, Ali Smith did not win, but I was very impressed by her performance and the way she encouraged Emily Fridlund and Fiona Mozley at the Nottingham shortlist readings event, which I attended last week (the other three shortlisted wri My fourth book from the Booker longlist, this is another that, like Reservoir 13, would have made a worthy winner. At the time of its release this book was billed as the first Brexit novel, but there is so much more to it than that. update 19 Oct - Sadly, and yet again, Ali Smith did not win, but I was very impressed by her performance and the way she encouraged Emily Fridlund and Fiona Mozley at the Nottingham shortlist readings event, which I attended last week (the other three shortlisted writers were not there). Reservoir 13 is out, so this is my clear favourite book in the shortlist Smith starts by introducing two characters - Daniel Gluck, who is 101 and clinging to life in a care home, and Elisabeth Demand, who was born in 1984 and knew him as a child when he was her neighbour. In the first part of the book Elisabeth is confronted by various decaying public institutions and the petty jobsworths who enforce the rules - the early scene in which she fights with the post office over a passport application is very funny. These are mixed up with her memories of her conversations with Daniel as a child in which he encouraged her to think differently, and her visits to Daniel in the care home where he spends most of his time asleep. As in many of her other books (notably Like and There but for the), Smith writes very powerfully and sympathetically about intelligent children and how they learn. In this section Daniel introduces Elisabeth to the work of Pauline Boty, the other main subject of the book, by describing some of her lost paintings. Daniel remembers meeting and being obsessed by Boty, and also has an immigrant backstory of his own. Boty was a leading pop artist in 60s London, who died young and was subsequently written out of history by the male critics of the time and her family's refusal to exhibit her work. Her life and work is described in glowing detail, along with one of her inspirations, Christine Keeler. The tone of the book changes from the disillusion and resignation Elisabeth feels when confronted with the British cultural changes that led to the Brexit vote to a form of hope embodied by Boty and her defiant flaunting of the expectations of her suburban middle class family. This is a richly rewarding novel of ideas, and as always Smith flits between her themes lightly. Smith is a national treasure, and this is one of her best books. This is the first of a projected four seasonally themed novels, and I look forward to the rest.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Hannah Greendale

    Click here to watch a video review of this book on my channel, From Beginning to Bookend. Click here to watch a video review of this book on my channel, From Beginning to Bookend.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Cheri

    "April come she will When streams are ripe and swelled with rain May she will stay Resting in my arms again June she'll change her tune In restless walks she'll prowl the night" --“April Come She Will” lyrics by Paul Simon "It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times." Traveling back and forth through time, the past to the present, from Elisabeth’s childhood and meeting her new neighbor Daniel Gluck, to the brink of the political climate that began with Brexit, this story covers a lot of terri "April come she will When streams are ripe and swelled with rain May she will stay Resting in my arms again June she'll change her tune In restless walks she'll prowl the night" --“April Come She Will” lyrics by Paul Simon "It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times." Traveling back and forth through time, the past to the present, from Elisabeth’s childhood and meeting her new neighbor Daniel Gluck, to the brink of the political climate that began with Brexit, this story covers a lot of territory in a rather fluid way, dealing with aging, love in its many shapes and forms, friendship, art and artists, books and the telling of stories, the concept of time, music, identity, the culture of television, politics, sexual inequality, division of people, division of countries, and global warming. When first they meet, Elisabeth pretends to be her (non-existent) twin sister, and after a bit of a chat, Daniel says: ”’Very pleased to meet you both. Finally.’ ‘How do you mean, finally?’ Elisabeth said. ‘We only moved here six weeks ago.’ ‘The lifelong friends, he said. We sometimes wait a lifetime for them.’” And lifelong friends is exactly what they will become, the almost-beginning of her life until his becomes dust in the wind, and somehow beyond then. He will always be a part of her, a part of how she sees the world. They play games; he describes a picture, a collage, to her, as she closes her eyes and listens and her imagination follows every detail of his description, occasionally asking questions. A moment, an image captured so clearly in her mind that it becomes a part of her, of how she sees art, how she sees herself, how she sees the world. Invariably, his first question when he sees her is what is she reading. “'Always be reading something,' he said. ‘Even when we’re not physically reading. How else will we read the world?’” The topics of politics, Brexit and beyond, flows in and out throughout this novel, although there is much to balance that out, and it is not Smith’s sole focus. Rather, it seems to weave in and out of the other topics, lending a time and place to this story. The fleeting nature of these things that occupy of minds and hearts, that our fears take root in, the lack of comfort in knowing that they will be replaced. As shall we. The elusive nature of time, how slow it seems to pass for children, for those awaiting something wonderful, how quickly it passes the older we get, how quickly a life passes. The seasons, Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter, how quickly they pass, merge one into another. The seasons of life, how quickly they pass. ”We have to hope, Daniel was saying, that the people who love us and who know us a little bit will in the end have seen us truly. In the end, not much else matters.” ”July she will fly And give no warning to her flight August die she must The autumn winds blow chilly and cold September I remember A love once new has now grown old” -- “April Come She Will” lyrics by Paul Simon Published 07 Feb 2017 Many thanks for the ARC provided by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group / Pantheon

  11. 4 out of 5

    Hannah

    My thoughts are all over the place for this book – maybe fitting because this is what this book is as well: all over the place. There is undeniable brilliance here: sentences so profound they made me stop in my tracks, word plays so wonderful I had to read them twice, musing on a great number of important things. It comes as no surprise that Ali Smith is a genius. But for some reasons these sparks of brilliance never came together for a coherent whole for me – and I guess this was also the point My thoughts are all over the place for this book – maybe fitting because this is what this book is as well: all over the place. There is undeniable brilliance here: sentences so profound they made me stop in my tracks, word plays so wonderful I had to read them twice, musing on a great number of important things. It comes as no surprise that Ali Smith is a genius. But for some reasons these sparks of brilliance never came together for a coherent whole for me – and I guess this was also the point. There is no proper coherence in life and in art and Ali Smith captures this perfectly. At the core of this book is the friendship between Elisabeth and her older neighbour Daniel and the profound effect on her life he has – opening to her a world of art and cleverness. This book is also filled with musings on art – especially that by women – and how art is both important and prone to being forgotten. This relationship somehow did not work for me – I think I would have needed it to be more fleshed out. The wonderful glitzy stylistic framework was not enough for me. Somehow I was lacking an emotional core for this book to really resonate with me. This lack was reinforced by the secondary storyline of Pauline Boty. This could have been so interesting but ultimately fell flat for me. Mostly because I did not have the necessary knowledge to contextualize what Ali Smith was telling me. This feeling of lack of knowledge worked against me multiple times during this book. I think, ultimately, I might have read the book wrong: I think it would have worked better for me if I had read this in one sitting, allowing myself to be swept up in the stylistic whimsy. This way the book would not have felt disjointed but rather a perfect microscopic view of one single moment in time. This moment being the aftermath of Brexit – which is something that is very close to my heart. I have lived in the UK for 5 years, 4 of those in Scotland and as such I have so many feelings about the UK leaving the EU. Especially because the months leading up to the Referendum were filled with xenophobic and racist discourse and because many people voting for leaving the UK voted for exactly those reasons. I am disappointed in the country I felt so welcome in, a country that is so wonderful and has so much to offer, and I am disappointed that people my age just did not go and vote (how idiotic is that?) and I am sorry for my friends who are still there, both those from the UK and those from abroad. Because this Referendum will change the country and there is no stopping this. (That was a tangent.) First sentence: “It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times.”

  12. 5 out of 5

    Dianne

    I'm not sure I can do justice to reviewing this or explaining what it is about - I suspect each time it's read, a new layer is revealed and it becomes something quite different. Let me just say the writing and wordplay is superb! Imaginative, perceptive, unexpectedly quite funny in places, and tender in others. I'd say the resounding theme in this book is loss - summer gives way to autumn in the seasons and in our lives, but there is beauty to be found in the journey. Don't go in to this expectin I'm not sure I can do justice to reviewing this or explaining what it is about - I suspect each time it's read, a new layer is revealed and it becomes something quite different. Let me just say the writing and wordplay is superb! Imaginative, perceptive, unexpectedly quite funny in places, and tender in others. I'd say the resounding theme in this book is loss - summer gives way to autumn in the seasons and in our lives, but there is beauty to be found in the journey. Don't go in to this expecting a plot, at least in not in the traditional sense. It's more like a half-remembered dream with two central characters who weave in and out of each other's lives, reliving their separate memories and experiences against the backdrop of various British touchpoints (the Profumo political scandal, the Pop Art movement, Brexit). Just go with the flow - read it once for the pleasure of the written word, then again to grasp the complexities of the plot threads and the cultural references. I loved it - I can see why this made the Booker shortlist and is one of the favorites to win. Thanks for NetGalley and Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group for an ARC of this lovely novel.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Trish

    It is November and outside my front door roses are still blooming. Their color is a deep rich clear pink. They look better than they did in the dry heat of summer. Smith’s first novel in her proposed quartet of volumes is an utter delight. I’d never encountered her voice before but when I got to the end, I looked again at the beginning. Just as well, because I had forgotten that Daniel speaks, briefly, before the story gets picked up by “his granddaughter,” Elisabeth, with an “s.” What I find quee It is November and outside my front door roses are still blooming. Their color is a deep rich clear pink. They look better than they did in the dry heat of summer. Smith’s first novel in her proposed quartet of volumes is an utter delight. I’d never encountered her voice before but when I got to the end, I looked again at the beginning. Just as well, because I had forgotten that Daniel speaks, briefly, before the story gets picked up by “his granddaughter,” Elisabeth, with an “s.” What I find queer, now having finished the novel, is why people talk about this as a Brexit novel. It is a novel of our times, told by a smart and savvy observer, but I would have put the emphasis squarely on the exploitation and disregard of women, their work, their point of view. Especially at this moment of lurid sexual scandal with roots supposedly in the 1960’s, “when the ethos was different,” we hear a voice that pierces that veil of ignorance and disregard and looks squarely at the mystery of history. Smith has caught our moment perfectly. The real beauty of this novel is the heart of the novelist. She sees the hard truths we negotiate every day and does not deny them but looks instead at our vulnerabilities, and how we need one another to perfect our world. The work is something reminiscent of pop art, jazzy and clever but with echoes…instead of a piece of pink lace stuck variously under paint on the canvas, a memory…of children washing up on a beach, or women being pushed and herded onto buses…so slight a mention they are mere shadows. But then Daniel asks explicitly, the first time they play Bagatelle, “Sure you want war?” before patiently instructing Elisabeth in the importance of diversity of thought: how the idea of ‘threatening’ is not unidirectional and can all be in one’s own mind. Daniel becomes companion, teacher, friend to adolescent Elisabeth, dismissed by Elisabeth’s mother as ‘that old queen.’ What to make of Elisabeth’s mother? (view spoiler)[One should feel some resentment for her unvarying philistinism, whose harshness for things outside her experience is tempered only late in the novel when she discovers love, and sex…with another woman. Are we to conclude that an intellectual woman’s willingness to see beauty and charm in the mother’s ugly harsh truth is also a kind of diversity…a necessity…if we are to escape war? (hide spoiler)] Smith marks time in this novel by describing the physical environment, the state of the roses, the chill in the air, the gossamer filaments of spider webs bearing beads, the color and position of leaves (on the trees, fallen to the ground). It positions us in a shifting timescape, through Daniel’s lifetime, and encapsulating the art of the first (and only?) female pop artist in Britain. Pauline Boty was…dismissed is too intentional a word…ignored during her career as an artist because she was beautiful and female. It makes one want to pair those two descriptors forever, in solidarity. “And whoever makes up the story makes up the world…So always try to welcome people into the home of your story…”I felt welcomed into the kindnesses Smith creates in this novel. There is wickedness in the world, and tragedy, but it doesn’t have to define us. We can create a world that turns inexorably, like the seasons, to longer days and more clement weather. And we can find people to love in the most unlikely places. Love is the [only?] thing that makes life worthwhile. This novel was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2017.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Sean Barrs

    I enjoyed Autumn immensely because of its wit, intelligence and creative charm. The novel is inventive, playful and clever. It is a book that weaves together ideas and references from a huge number of places, channelling them into a relevant and potent story. The descriptions are masterful in tone and have flourishes of vivid colour, comparable only to the writing of Virginia Woolf. There is also a lot of history that hangs over the book, as a lot of history hangs over the autumn season. There a I enjoyed Autumn immensely because of its wit, intelligence and creative charm. The novel is inventive, playful and clever. It is a book that weaves together ideas and references from a huge number of places, channelling them into a relevant and potent story. The descriptions are masterful in tone and have flourishes of vivid colour, comparable only to the writing of Virginia Woolf. There is also a lot of history that hangs over the book, as a lot of history hangs over the autumn season. There are echoes of Keats and Dickens, of things that have already been said but need to be said again in perhaps a slightly different way. Words and sentences wash over you in torrents of majestic and palpable prose. It is simple. It is direct. But it is loaded with meaning. And it feels strikingly modernist. It feels like Ali Smith is deliberately pushing the boundaries of storytelling; she attempts to capture the elusive and the vagueness of human experience because there is something that is not quite said or quite established through the work. It even has a dream like quality at times, as memory and the present are intertwined. Whilst she does not quite deconstruct the novel as powerfully as Zadie Smith does in her writing, Ali Smith writes with a same awareness and engagement with early twentieth century writes. This has been dubbed as the first Brexit novel, though the novel barely touches or engages with it. To reduce it down to such a label is to do the writing here a huge disservice. I do not consider it such. There are far more important things at play here, though I have no doubt that the said label did help the book sell tremendously. For me, it is more of a novel that discusses regret, friendship and the inevitability of death. And it captures much of this through nature imagery, through the different colours of leaves, trees and pages of books. Although it has a melancholy nature, the book is still thoroughly charming because of this. The most important element here is the creative energy that drives the narrative, and it has been infused with a love of books and ideas. It is passionate. And it is a work that understands and appreciates the importance of the act of reading and, by extension, the act of writing. I savoured every word. ___________________________________ You can connect with me on social media via My Linktree. __________________________________

  15. 4 out of 5

    Richard (on hiatus)

    Autumn was my first Ali Smith novel and I liked it rather than loved it. The book concerns the long term relationship between its two central characters, Elisabeth Demand and her elderly neighbour Daniel. It’s refracted storyline is told through a series of seemingly random scenes, conversations, dreams and imagined incidents. We jump about in time and the effect is often surreal. I’m still trying to work out how much I actually enjoyed the novel ........ At first the language felt awkward and jagge Autumn was my first Ali Smith novel and I liked it rather than loved it. The book concerns the long term relationship between its two central characters, Elisabeth Demand and her elderly neighbour Daniel. It’s refracted storyline is told through a series of seemingly random scenes, conversations, dreams and imagined incidents. We jump about in time and the effect is often surreal. I’m still trying to work out how much I actually enjoyed the novel ........ At first the language felt awkward and jagged but after a while it takes on an a certain musicality that’s obviously Ali Smith’s signature style. I enjoyed the the stuff about art, in particular the work of Pauline Boty (pop art artist) as I did the fragments of old news stories such as The Profumo Affair that pepper the narrative. However, Smith’s views on British politics and Brexit seemed a bit laboured and mundane, especially after our recent exhausting general election where the arguments on all sides have been grinding on interminably (maybe they seemed fresher in the direct aftermath of the Brexit referendum?) Ali Smith is also obviously irritated by modern bureaucracy and the state. Her main character is constantly frustrated in post offices, doctor surgeries and care homes. To be honest I found myself siding with the hapless staff as Elisabeth continued to ignore simple instructions, making things unnecessarily difficult. With a lighter touch in a lighter book, these comedic interactions would have been amusing but in Autumn they felt a bit leaden. There was also much random meandering. Often the strange paths the book would follow were colourful, poignant and profound - and yet often they just felt a bit frustrating and pointless. The overall tone of the book was pessimistic but with a lovely, arty, experimental sheen. The biggest success of the book was the depiction of the friendship between Elisabeth and Daniel - deep, lifelong and gently moving. My review feels a bit all over the place, but then so did the book! Do read it though - It’s a unique reading experience that’s great for discussion ........... and it’s very likely that you will love it more than I did.

  16. 4 out of 5

    William2

    Heaps of spine-tingling narrative pleasure. One feels the hairs on one’s nape standing on end while reading. Autumn’s a book about enlightened values versus what we’ve been getting lately from the mobocracy. No need to mention the B word or the T word here. Most things I read, the author’s point of view does not reflect my values, though he or she may come close. Quite the opposite with Autumn. Reading Smith one feels one has met with a very like-minded person. In my broad reading experience, th Heaps of spine-tingling narrative pleasure. One feels the hairs on one’s nape standing on end while reading. Autumn’s a book about enlightened values versus what we’ve been getting lately from the mobocracy. No need to mention the B word or the T word here. Most things I read, the author’s point of view does not reflect my values, though he or she may come close. Quite the opposite with Autumn. Reading Smith one feels one has met with a very like-minded person. In my broad reading experience, that’s rare. But that's not all. There's also the beautiful story itself which jumps around in time à la Muriel Spark's The Prime of Miss Jean Brody and follows the relationship of an old man and a teenager as they diverge and converge over twenty years or so. As regular babysitter for the girl’s mother, the old man has enlightened his young charge in certain areas of, let’s call it, felicitous thinking. Now he’s 101 and in a hospice. She’s 32, an art history teacher, who comes to read to him as he sleeps. The book is full of surprises. There were perhaps one or two bits of experimentation I didn't like, neither was I amused by the puns, but these are quibbles. A brilliant kind of frenetic story telling. Read it.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    This is not only the first of four novels based on the seasons, but it has also been acclaimed as the first Brexit novel. This makes it very British in some ways and the feelings in the country and the reactions to the vote form part of the novel, as in this much quoted piece: “All across the country, there was misery and rejoicing. All across the country, what had happened whipped about by itself as if a live electric wire had snapped off a pylon in a storm and was whipping about in the air abov This is not only the first of four novels based on the seasons, but it has also been acclaimed as the first Brexit novel. This makes it very British in some ways and the feelings in the country and the reactions to the vote form part of the novel, as in this much quoted piece: “All across the country, there was misery and rejoicing. All across the country, what had happened whipped about by itself as if a live electric wire had snapped off a pylon in a storm and was whipping about in the air above the trees, the roofs, the traffic. All across the country, people felt it was the wrong thing. All across the country, people felt it was the right thing. All across the country, people felt they’d really lost. All across the country, people felt they’d really won.” With this backdrop the novel moves easily over the last hundred years through its main characters. Daniel Gluck is a century old, Jewish and in a care home. Elisabeth was born in 1984; during her childhood in the 1990s she lived next to Daniel Gluck and a friendship developed; they are kindred spirits and Daniel helps Elisabeth think in new ways. One of the ways he does this is through art and in particular the art of Pauline Boty, a little known 1960s artist and her art is woven through the book. The novel is well written and constructed and flits between vignettes and scenes some of which are very pertinent, some amusing, others very sad. The scenes in the post office when Elisabeth is trying to renew her passport are straight out of Monty Python. It feels very current and there are reflections on recent events and the nature of social media. This on the murder of the MP Jo Cox; “Someone killed an MP,” she tells him. “A man shot her dead and came at her with a knife. Like shooting her wouldn’t be enough. But it’s old news now. Once it would have been a year’s worth of news. But news right now is like a flock of speeded-up sheep running off the side of a cliff.” Elisabeth reflects that in her situation as a part time lecturer she has little hope of buying a house, very little money and no job security. She also talks about her students, “graduating with all that debt and a future in the past.” Her mother meanwhile has been on a popular TV antiques programme and has met another woman of a similar age and started a relationship. The part where Elisabeth walks in on them kissing is hilarious. The novel is powerfully propelled by the narrative voice and despite covering a broad range of topics like art, politics, feminism, literature, the nature of memory, prejudice and Brexit (of course), it is never hard to read. It is a reflection on who we are and what we are made of, As Deborah Levy says: “Transcendental writing about art, death, political lies, trees and all the dimensions of love.” And I love the occasional rants: “I'm tired of the news. I'm tired of the way it makes things spectacular that aren't, and deals so simplistically with what's truly appalling. I'm tired of the vitriol. I'm tired of anger. I'm tired of the meanness. I'm tired of selfishness. I'm tired of how we're doing nothing to stop it. I'm tired of how we're encouraging it. I'm tired of the violence that's on it's way, that's coming, that hasn't happened yet. I'm tired of liars. I'm tired of sanctified liars. I'm tired of how those liars have let this happen. I'm tired of having to wonder whether they did it out of stupidity or did it on purpose. I'm tired of lying governments. I'm tired of people not caring whether they're being lied to anymore. I'm tired of being made to feel this fearful.”

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    I was going to save this to read in the autumn, but then it was included in the Man Booker Prize Long List so I moved it up. This is described as a post-Brexit novel, and it does take place in that world and mentions it a few times in a few different ways, but more in the way that all of us continue in the world as it changes around us. "...I'm tired of the news. I'm tired of the way it makes things spectacular that aren't, and deals so simplistically with what's truly appalling. I'm tired of the I was going to save this to read in the autumn, but then it was included in the Man Booker Prize Long List so I moved it up. This is described as a post-Brexit novel, and it does take place in that world and mentions it a few times in a few different ways, but more in the way that all of us continue in the world as it changes around us. "...I'm tired of the news. I'm tired of the way it makes things spectacular that aren't, and deals so simplistically with what's truly appalling. I'm tired of the vitriol. I'm tired of the anger. I'm tired of the meanness. I'm tired of the selfishness. I'm tired of how we're doing nothing to stop it. I'm tired of how we're encouraging it. I'm tired of the violence there is and I'm tired of the violence that's on its way, that's coming, that hasn't happened yet. I'm tired of liars. I'm tired of sanctified liars. I'm tired of how those liars have let this happen. I'm tired of having to wonder whether they did it out of stupidity or did it on purpose. I'm tired of lying government. I'm tired of people not caring whether they're being lied to any more. I'm tired of being made to feel this fearful. I'm tired of animosity. I'm tired of pusillanimosity. I don't think that's actually a word, Elisabeth says. I'm tired of not knowing the right words, her mother says."The central story, at least for me, is the love story of sorts between Elisabeth and her elderly neighbor, Daniel. We see them in many different iterations, during her childhood (where her mother wanted her to stay away from him) through her adulthood when she is his only visitor while he is unconscious in a hospital. He encourages her to be a reader, to use her imagination, to think. "We have to hope, Daniel was saying, that the people who love us and who know us a little bit will in the end have seen us truly. In the end, not much else matters."There is an art storyline too, about the sole female UK pop artist Pauline Boty, who turns out to be a real person (see here. But what Ali Smith always does that moves every book by her from four stars to five is in the writing. It is at times stream of consciousness, at times poetic, at times sparse, at times incredibly moving. I enjoyed reading it and feel like I barely scratched the surface in the first time through.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Dolors

    I am afraid much of this abstract work went way over my head. The subversive criticism of post-truth politics in a new era of mass media, the half-comic, half-indignant sketches of our senseless bureaucratic system, the sadly recurrent reality of female artists neglected again and again in a world ruled by men. Smith’s creates a collage with such weighty subjects and uses it to paint the backdrop of Elisabeth and Daniel’s story while traveling back and forth in time. The perception of time is pre I am afraid much of this abstract work went way over my head. The subversive criticism of post-truth politics in a new era of mass media, the half-comic, half-indignant sketches of our senseless bureaucratic system, the sadly recurrent reality of female artists neglected again and again in a world ruled by men. Smith’s creates a collage with such weighty subjects and uses it to paint the backdrop of Elisabeth and Daniel’s story while traveling back and forth in time. The perception of time is precisely what will stay with me of this story, maybe in a similar way than Woolf’s “To the lighthouse” did. Inexorably, like a punch in the stomach, with a kind of poetic melancholy that soothes and bruises all at once. Seasons pass, leaves fall, autumn sets in, the sunset of a life allows the sunrise of another. I will also remember the finely painted portrait of Elisabeth and David’s platonic love. Elisabeth is about 70 years younger than Daniel, but they stubbornly stick to each other, influencing their lives in ways that defy the standard views. Daniel finds eternity, Elisabeth meaning and purpose, and both walk in parallel paths where physical distance means nothing, speaking to each other through years, relationships and illnesses, mere white noise in comparison to the inner voice that bounds them together. Smith’s prose moves in rhythmic waves of concentric intensity. All her conjectural digressions converge into Daniel and Elisabeth’s relationship, which becomes the core that sustains what otherwise would be a structureless castle of blank proclamations. Love is what remains in the end after everything else vanishes, as it will inevitably happen to all of us, abruptly, with no warning; so let’s love generously to defy the vertigo of an empty page at the end of our journey, let’s love and let’s share and let’s read out loud to defeat silence and darkness. Like Elisabeth does, as I’d like to do when the time comes. I received an ARC via Netgalley in exchange of an honest review."

  20. 5 out of 5

    Simon

    I really enjoyed Autumn, which is possibly Ali Smith’s most accessible book yet, however I wasn’t as wholly blown away by it as most people. I mean it’s still BRILLIANT because it’s Ali Smith. I adored the story of Daniel and Elisabeth over the years, I loved how Elizabeth’s mother developed. I agreed politically on Brexit and her observations of the good and bad... the art bit though just didn’t feel needed and dragged me away from what I was loving. And loving so much. Just my thoughts. Will b I really enjoyed Autumn, which is possibly Ali Smith’s most accessible book yet, however I wasn’t as wholly blown away by it as most people. I mean it’s still BRILLIANT because it’s Ali Smith. I adored the story of Daniel and Elisabeth over the years, I loved how Elizabeth’s mother developed. I agreed politically on Brexit and her observations of the good and bad... the art bit though just didn’t feel needed and dragged me away from what I was loving. And loving so much. Just my thoughts. Will be heading to Winter soon.

  21. 5 out of 5

    lark benobi

    The novel seems to want to present me with all the sadness in the world, and all the bleakness of recent history, and it seemed determined to remind me of all the meannesses that people can heap upon one another (some of it through neglect) (some of it through evil acts)--and yet even as the novel forced me to face these things, at its center was a beautiful hope. The novel is a paean to the power of language, and to the mystery of human interaction, and to the way small daily gestures of kindne The novel seems to want to present me with all the sadness in the world, and all the bleakness of recent history, and it seemed determined to remind me of all the meannesses that people can heap upon one another (some of it through neglect) (some of it through evil acts)--and yet even as the novel forced me to face these things, at its center was a beautiful hope. The novel is a paean to the power of language, and to the mystery of human interaction, and to the way small daily gestures of kindness can reverberate and magnify upon themselves across the years. I think that's what it was about, anyway. That's what it was about for me, today. More than most novels, this novel felt like a dialog, where I was part of the creation of story, and where the feelings an image or a scene gave to me, however personal, were being acknowledged and even invited in by the text. It left me feeling sad, and it left me also feeling very much in love with my own family, somehow. I felt more appreciation for all that is idiosyncratic and flawed, and f0r those who try to think new thoughts rather than just going along with what everyone else thinks.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Seemita

    [A formidable 3.5] [Originally appeared here: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/li...] She has done it in the past; and she does it again here. Ali Smith’s fixation on, and a visible mastery of, story-telling across timeline, in no particular order, shines in this experimental, breezy novel as well. Centred around the 30-something Elisabeth Demand and her centenarian friend, Daniel Gluck, Autumn is a long, vibrant, occasionally melancholic, sometimes acerbic but entirely warming season of their fr [A formidable 3.5] [Originally appeared here: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/li...] She has done it in the past; and she does it again here. Ali Smith’s fixation on, and a visible mastery of, story-telling across timeline, in no particular order, shines in this experimental, breezy novel as well. Centred around the 30-something Elisabeth Demand and her centenarian friend, Daniel Gluck, Autumn is a long, vibrant, occasionally melancholic, sometimes acerbic but entirely warming season of their friendship. Elisabeth, with a ‘s’, is a history of art professor, whose interest was originally kindled in the subject she currently teaches, by the liberal hours she had spent with Daniel, her then-babysitter. As a genial neighbour to Elisabeth’s busy mother, he had agreed to be her caretaker, and in turn, had relished the artistic discourse with the little Ms. Demand. Fast forward a good twenty plus years and Daniel is now a patient in a day care, under the constant vigil of nurses and in wait of, perhaps, the same palliative cacophony of Elisabeth’s inquisitive murmur. Throwing light on the two personalities and what edification the many seasons of life imparts, the chapters run forward and backward on the tenuous thread of time. Smith shapes her Elisabeth with a smart countenance, boisterous wit, wry humour and banal gloom. The man creases up. It seems he was joking; his shoulders go up and down but no sound comes out of him. It's like laughter, but also like a parody of laughter, and simultaneously a bit like he's having an asthma attack. May be you're not allowed to laugh out loud behind the counter of the main Post Office. Whether it is the ridiculous bureaucratic hurdles she encounters in her efforts to secure a passport or the disdain she receives at her rebellious choice of thesising on Pauline Boty,Elisabeth comes across as a feisty heroine who is subdued by the autumnal phase of her friend and the dried momentum of her own life. Amidst random allusion to political upheavals in Europe (read Brexit) and the millennium bug, it is the generous badinage between the two key characters that bring this work to life. Velvets of sentiment and pun run through the pages, making Elisabeth’s first person narrative as effective as Daniel’s reticent third person narrative. At once, hilarious, stimulating, querulous and refreshing, this is Smith’s frolicking side at play, without losing the sight of her trademark percipience. Winter, I await. [Note: Thanks to Netgalley, Ali Smith and Penguin Books (UK) for providing me an ARC.]

  23. 5 out of 5

    Roger Brunyate

    Every Story Tells a Picture At the heart of Ali Smith's seemingly chaotic but actually tightly-organized new novel is a love relationship, between a thirtyish art lecturer, Elisabeth Demand, and a 101-year-old man, Daniel Gluck. Their love was born over two decades earlier, when Elisabeth's mother roped in her elderly neighbor to look after her daughter. And what a baby-sitter Daniel turns out to be: playful, irreverent, respectful, and always intellectually challenging! One afternoon, he offers Every Story Tells a Picture At the heart of Ali Smith's seemingly chaotic but actually tightly-organized new novel is a love relationship, between a thirtyish art lecturer, Elisabeth Demand, and a 101-year-old man, Daniel Gluck. Their love was born over two decades earlier, when Elisabeth's mother roped in her elderly neighbor to look after her daughter. And what a baby-sitter Daniel turns out to be: playful, irreverent, respectful, and always intellectually challenging! One afternoon, he offers Elisabeth the choice of two games, either "Every Picture Tells a Story" or "Every Story Tells a Picture." She chooses the former, and he begins to conjure images out of the air, describing them in words, eliciting her wondering reactions:     The background is rich dark blue, Daniel said. A blue much darker than the sky. On top of the dark blue, in the middle of the picture, there's a shape made of pale paper that looks like a round full moon. On top of the moon, bigger than the moon, there's a cut-out black and white lady wearing a swimsuit, cut from a newspaper or fashion magazine. And next to her, as if she's leaning against it, there's a giant human hand. And the giant hand is holding inside it a tiny hand, a baby's hand. More truthfully, the baby's hand is also holding the big hand, holding it by its thumb. Below all this, there's a stylized picture of a woman's face, the same face repeated several times, but with a different coloured curl of real hair hanging over its nose each time— […] Ali Smith herself is of course playing the opposite game, for her stories lead in the end to pictures, real pictures by a female artist of the nineteen-sixties who was briefly famous, then forgotten, then recently rediscovered. But, as she did in her previous novel, How To Be Both, Smith conceals the painter's name until halfway through the book. I shall do the same, giving details and showing some of her work only in my second section, which I shall mark off as a spoiler. It is not that Smith is playing a guessing game—I had never heard of the artist, and I was an art history student myself at the time—but that the author's medium is words. Typing out the excerpt above, I had a small reproduction of the painting itself by my side. They do different things. The painting makes an immediate impact, after which you begin to look for the detail. But Daniel starts with the detail, which is to say with the meaning behind the picture. Describing it to a child, he becomes a kind of magician, conjuring rabbit images which chase one another in her mind. Much later we realize that he is also conjuring the woman who selected these images, casting us back to that brief early-sixties period when the postwar winter was turning to spring. Smith long ago gave up telling stories in linear fashion, and this book pays scant heed to the conventions of prose narrative. Far better to think of her as a poet, and accept her images, literal or dreamlike, for whatever pattern the eventually leave in your mind. She starts with Daniel on a beach, surreal, evocative, death or merely a dream. Then Elisabeth struggling with petty officialdom in a post office penned by Kafka—only this is 2016. From there we jump characters and decades, back and forth, until the novel finally casts anchor in the first of those magical adult-child encounters with which I started. Their relationship deepens steadily over the rest of the book, as does our view of the almost-forgotten artist, but we are left to fill in the back-stories of the two principals ourselves. For Daniel, there are hints of a Holocaust background and a career as a songwriter; for Elisabeth, various scenes with her rather vapid mother, and hints of a ten-year hiatus in her life that is never explained. Those who expect plot threads to be neatly tied up should probably not even start, though I personally find something very moving in Smith's deliberate incompleteness. Why the title, Autumn? It is intended to be the first of four thematically-connected novels, that much I know. But I'm not sure I would have thought of this season otherwise. It is true that Daniel's long life is clearly ebbing to is close. It is true that the act of looking back at an earlier age (roughly the year of the author's birth) can bring on an autumnal nostalgia. And towards the end of the novel there are passages that are clearly set at the year's end, one of which I shall quote in a moment for its beauty. But the real change in Smith's England is not a transition, but a fracture; this is surely the first post-Brexit novel:     All across the country, there was misery and rejoicing. […] All across the country, people felt it was the wrong thing. All across the country, people felt it was the right thing. […] All across the country, people felt unsafe. All across the country, people were laughing their heads off. All across the country, people felt legitimized. All across the country, people felt bereaved and shocked. Any reference you may detect, here and elsewhere, to the famous opening of A Tale of Two Cities is deliberate; it is the book that Elisabeth reads when she visits Daniel. At another time, she brings Brave New World, whose dystopia is reflected in a modern England of security cameras and electrified fences. But Smith does not forget the origin of that title, Miranda's cry of innocent wonder in The Tempest. One other book Elisabeth has with her, clearly a talisman of Daniel's also, is Ovid's Metamorphoses, which relates even the most cataclysmic of changes to the age-old processes of the natural world. And Ali Smith's own writing reflects this too:     November again. It's more winter than autumn. That's not mist. It's fog.     The sycamore seeds hit the glass in the wind like—no, not like anything else, like sycamore seeds hitting window glass.     There've been a couple of windy nights. The leaves are stuck to the ground with the wet. The ones on the paving are yellow and rotting, wanwood, leafmeal. One is so stuck that when it eventually peels away, its leafshape left behind, shadow of a leaf, will last on the pavement till next spring. + + + + + + HISTORICAL POSTSCRIPT. The following section says a little more about the artist in the background of the book, shows a few of her paintings, and footnotes a couple of other real people mentioned in the text. Of course, you could always Google this information for yourself as you come to it in your reading. (view spoiler)[ Pauline Boty (b. 1938) was a pioneer of the British Pop Art movement which burst upon the scene in the early 1960s, largely independently from American Pop. She was its only female member. She was thus a contemporary of Derek Boshier, Peter Phillips, and David Hockney, who went on to greater fame, but her own work disappeared after her early death in 1966, and has only recently been rediscovered. The movement as a whole took every aspect of contemporary life as its subject—politics, social attitudes, popular icons, the media—but as its only female member, Boty's subjects were frequently feminist, as can be seen in the painting described in my first quotation above, and the diptych It's A Man's World which Smith also describes in some detail: Boty had a parallel career as an actress. A nightmare sequence in Ken Russell's 1961 documentary about the movement, Pop Goes the Easel, led to offers of roles in movies and at the Royal Court Theatre. Her blonde hair, unabashed sexuality, and physical resemblance to the French film star led to her being known as "the Wimbledon Bardot." In 1963, after only a ten-day courtship, she married literary agent Clive Goodwin, and their Kensington apartment became a salon for numerous artists and musicians (including, yes, Bob Dylan). In 1965, she became pregnant, but a prenatal examination revealed an aggressive cancer. Determined to carry the baby to term, she refused chemotherapy, and died five months after her daughter was born. She was 28. One picture that plays a significant part in the novel is Scandal 1963; Boty is shown holding it above, but the original has never been recovered. The scandal in question was the Profumo Affair that ultimately brought down the government of Harold Macmillan. Anyone living in Britain at the time would pick up on references that Smith mentions only in passing, but other readers might require a little more. The nude in the chair is Christine Keeler, a model who was revealed to have been sexually involved with John Profumo, the Secretary of War, and Yevgeny Ivanov, a Soviet naval attaché. In a speech to the House of Commons, Profumo denied any impropriety, but the cover-up did not succeed. Two other figures mentioned in passing by Smith are Stephen Ward, a society osteopath and portrait painter who introduced Keeler to Profumo, and Sir Anthony Blunt, then the Keeper of the Queen's Pictures but later unmasked as the fourth in the Philby/Burgess/Maclean spy ring. The photo that Boty used, incidentally, was given her by the photographer Lewis Morley, whose published picture of Keeler was for a time as iconic in Britain as, say, the still of Marilyn Monroe standing over a subway grating. (hide spoiler)] ====== My Top Ten list this year is selected from a smaller than usual pool. I really only started reading again in May, and even then deliberately kept new books to under 50% of my total. In compiling the list, I also did not exactly follow mu original star ratings, but rather the takeaway value after time has passed. In particular, there are two books, Lincoln in the Bardo and Go, Went, Gone) to which I gave only 4 stars, but which I recognize as important books, with more staying power than many that I enjoyed more at the time, but have since forgotten. For some reason, three of the ten books (Forest Dark, A Horse Walks into a Bar, and Three Floors Up) are by Jewish authors, set in Israel. To those, I would add a fourth: Judas by Amos Oz, read at the same time and of similar quality, but actually published at the end of 2016. The ten titles below are in descending order (i.e. with The Essex Serpent being my favorite). The links are to my reviews: 1. The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry 2. Autumn by Ali Smith 3. Forest Dark by Nicole Krauss 4. The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne 5. Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor 6. A Horse Walks into a Bar by David Grossman 7. Exit West by Moshin Hamid 8. Three Floors Up by Eshkol Nevo 9. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders 10. Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck And half that number again that didn't quite make it, in alphabetical order by authors: 11. Souvenirs dormants by Patrick Modiano 12. All We Shall Know by Donal Ryan 13. Improvement by Joan Silber 14. Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout 15. Rose & Poe by Jack Todd

  24. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Quann

    I finished this novel a few days ago, but put off the review. To speak quite frankly, I think Autumn is a novel that is a touch too smart for me to properly wrap my head around. Smith's prose flips, twists, jumps, and skitters across the page with vivacity and wit, but also left me feeling overwhelmed with stylistic experimentation. So, I turned to interviews with Smith and reviews others have written to better understand what I had just read. It isn't simply the writing that left me confused, bu I finished this novel a few days ago, but put off the review. To speak quite frankly, I think Autumn is a novel that is a touch too smart for me to properly wrap my head around. Smith's prose flips, twists, jumps, and skitters across the page with vivacity and wit, but also left me feeling overwhelmed with stylistic experimentation. So, I turned to interviews with Smith and reviews others have written to better understand what I had just read. It isn't simply the writing that left me confused, but the real and imagined proceedings of the book with which I was unfamiliar. The knee-jerk is for me to write that these are a group of interlaced stories, but they are more a paint-splatter on canvas. The Profumo affair? I was entirely oblivious to this prior to my reading, but it is frequently referenced during the proceedings. Similarly, pop-art phenom Pauline Boty's work and life are used as touchstones throughout the book. Pauline Boty's Scandal '63 I realize that my earlier statements may reflect poorly on Smith's writing, which was jarring, but not unpleasant. Certainly, some of the experimentation with page, spacing, and repetition seem more like poetry than prose to me. However, there were many bits of wordplay and colourful dialogue that helped to enliven the proceedings. This is an exceptionally witty book and it offers no moment for one to collect one's proverbial breath before setting into another dense packet of athletic word-smithing. My favourite bits are those that stayed focused on Elisabeth and Daniel's relationship. Elisabeth is a young girl when she first meets her aged neighbour and begins a lifelong friendship for the both of them. The book flips and flops between Daniel's delirium in hospital and he and Elisabeth's formative relationship. The friendship here, between the young and the old, is too often left to the wayside in literature and made for the novel's best scenes. That Smith is both able to drive home philosophical musings entwined with a terrific platonic love story speaks to her skill. In my post-novel readings, I discovered that Smith wrote this novel in a fury following Brexit last year. Indeed, the book has a bit of that feeling: one rushed in response to an unpleasant change in UK politics. The parts about Brexit are affecting, and they never felt too preachy to me. Smith is for the most part objective, choosing instead to use Elisabeth and Daniel's discussions to teach about provisional truth and then forcing the reader to make their own judgements. The novel is spotty, but works as a fine introduction to Smith. I may not have gotten all the references--reading A Tale of Two Cities seems to have been an unspoken prerequisite--but I appreciated enough of the book. Despite its small package, it's boiling over with ideas. To my taste, I'd prefer a book that distilled its ideas more effectively. Autumn often feels more like a shotgun blast than a precision shot. I wish I could understand why Boty's work ties in with Brexit and an intergenerational relationship, but I didn't. I'll be sure to try my luck again with Winter early next year. Hopefully I'll be better suited for the task!

  25. 4 out of 5

    MJ Nicholls

    Ali Smith is a prolific story writer, critic, and playwright, but her novels alone have blasted her into the mesosphere of critical adulation, and this first part of an exciting seasonal quartet furthers her familiar brand of humorous, gentle, playful, and bedazzling brilliance. Timehopping across the century, the novel focuses on the adopted father relationship between an art lecturer and an enigmatic former dancer, lyricist, and sixties art scenester. Featuring another of Smith’s precocious yo Ali Smith is a prolific story writer, critic, and playwright, but her novels alone have blasted her into the mesosphere of critical adulation, and this first part of an exciting seasonal quartet furthers her familiar brand of humorous, gentle, playful, and bedazzling brilliance. Timehopping across the century, the novel focuses on the adopted father relationship between an art lecturer and an enigmatic former dancer, lyricist, and sixties art scenester. Featuring another of Smith’s precocious youngsters (her affinity for these quick-witted pre-teens is evident in other novels like There but for the) and word-loving oddballs, the novel takes a melancholic look at the present political tangles of 2016, reflects on the legacy of British pop-artist Pauline Boty, and muses on the place of storytelling and fabrication in a post-truth (OED word of 2016!) era. Among numerous other charming tangents and tangles. This is a delightful concoction and evocative of the titular season. A beautiful novel of ideas and passions, featuring beautiful characters full of ideas and passions.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Teresa

    4.5 Death, Dickens, refugees, trees, fear, old age, Brexit, friendship, Shakespeare, love, lies, Christine Keeler, art, fences, stories, Pauline Boty (lots of the lovely Pauline Boty), seeing, Keats, disillusionment, rebirth, Ovid, exclusion, women, awakening. (Even 'Trump' is a one-word sentence within the novel, though I hesitate to add it to the list, except to note that it adds to the contemporaneity. Perhaps she means the verb and it's an imperative sentence...nope.) Weave all of the above an 4.5 Death, Dickens, refugees, trees, fear, old age, Brexit, friendship, Shakespeare, love, lies, Christine Keeler, art, fences, stories, Pauline Boty (lots of the lovely Pauline Boty), seeing, Keats, disillusionment, rebirth, Ovid, exclusion, women, awakening. (Even 'Trump' is a one-word sentence within the novel, though I hesitate to add it to the list, except to note that it adds to the contemporaneity. Perhaps she means the verb and it's an imperative sentence...nope.) Weave all of the above and know Ali Smith. Just don’t do all I did: yes, search-engine images of Boty’s work; but, no, try not to read too much about Boty's life until you’ve finished the novel. Otherwise, some of the revelations will feel too familiar.

  27. 4 out of 5

    PattyMacDotComma

    4.5★ (Read and reviewed February 28, 2017) Oh my, what to make of this book? I’ve not read Ali Smith before, and I can’t recall anything that was quite the mix of poetry, history, art, family dynamics, and philosophy – not to mention politics. I love her writing – I would have enjoyed the Pop Art more if I’d had any idea who the artist was (link below). And I’m overloaded with politics and populism and Brexit, so less of that would have suited me better, because I was really enjoying the “story”, 4.5★ (Read and reviewed February 28, 2017) Oh my, what to make of this book? I’ve not read Ali Smith before, and I can’t recall anything that was quite the mix of poetry, history, art, family dynamics, and philosophy – not to mention politics. I love her writing – I would have enjoyed the Pop Art more if I’d had any idea who the artist was (link below). And I’m overloaded with politics and populism and Brexit, so less of that would have suited me better, because I was really enjoying the “story”, but that’s probably just me. Briefly, a fatherless, intellectual girl, to the disapproval of her carefree, careless mother, befriends an elderly neighbour who whets her appetite for art, literature and truth. While bemoaning the current (2016) state of the world, he encourages her to keep looking ahead with hope. When I finished reading, I was struck by how Smth's tone moved from poetic to conversational to funny and downright crude in a way that reminded me of Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar. The book opens with someone on a beach, seeing dead bodies, seeing his own old body, deciding he must have died and a bit miffed to find he didn’t get his young body back, as he’d always assumed he would. The scene drifts around so oddly, that we’re left wondering what to make of it. Then we meet Elisabeth Demand, today, when she’s 32, dealing with a bureaucratic stuffed shirt at the post office in an attempt to get her passport renewed. Very funny scenes. He delights in telling her: “It’s a nine times out of ten-er that something’s not going to be right with this.” So of course, since he’s in charge, something isn’t right. Her hair is too close to her face (“It’s on my head, Elisabeth says. That’s where it grows. And my face is also attached to my head”). There is a lot of humour throughout the book. There’s also a fair whack of political philosophy (or philosophical politics, depending how you view Brexit and current US politics). Smith moves us smoothly back and forth from Elisabeth’s childhood to today. Today, she’s visiting Daniel Gluck, the old neighbour (101?) in a care facility. He has been a major life influence, introducing her, by verbal description only, to the art of Pauline Boty, because the paintings had disappeared. And he talks at length about The Scandal, referring to what I know as the Profumo Affair, where model Christine Keeler had dalliances with both English and Russian officials during the same period of time. He’s probably in his 80s when they meet, he’s quick, funny, and entertaining. I love how Smith describes Elisabeth’s surprise when she sneaks next door at the age of nine to meet him. “If he 'was’ very old, the neighbour, he didn’t look anything like the people who were meant to be it on TV who always seemed as if they were trapped inside a rubber mask, not just a face-sized mask, but one that went the length of the body from head to foot, and if you could tear it off or split it open it was like you’d find an untouched unchanged young person inside, who’d simply step cleanly out of the old fake skin, like the skin after you take out the inner banana. When they were trapped inside that skin, though, the eyes of people, at least the people in all the films and comedy programmes, looked desperate, like they were trying to signal to outsiders without giving the game away that they’d been captured by empty aged selves which were now keeping them alive inside them for some sinister reason, like those wasps that lay eggs inside other creatures so their hatchlings will have something to eat. Except the other way round, the old self feeding off the young one. All that was left would be the eyes, pleading, trapped behind the eyeholes.” And I loved this poetic description of Autumn: “OCTOBER’S A BLINK OF THE EYE. The apples weighing down the tree a minute ago are gone and the tree’s leaves are yellow and thinning. A frost has snapped millions of trees all across the country into brightness. The ones that aren’t evergreen are a combination of beautiful and tawdry, red orange gold the leaves, then brown, and down. The days are unexpectedly mild. It doesn’t feel that far from summer, not really, if it weren’t for the underbite of the day, the lacy creep of the dark and the damp at its edges, the plants calm in the folding themselves away, the beads of the condensation on the webstrings hung between things.” Thanks so much to NetGalley and Penguin / Hamish Hamilton for the preview copy from which I’ve quoted. Here’s a link to Christine Keeler and the Profumo Affair https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christi... And another to Pauline Boty. I wish I’d read this before I’d read the book. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pauline...

  28. 5 out of 5

    Emma

    At first I couldn't be sure whether I loved or hated this short novel. Ali Smith's language is like a maze for the mind. It's both stilted and beautiful, a stream of consciousness that reworks the reader's own thoughts into a new pattern. It feels like a freeing of the consciousness but also like a new set of walls. It takes you outside your own experience of time, but forces you into someone else's, stating with a character's death dreamscape. It's not always comfortable. In many ways reminded At first I couldn't be sure whether I loved or hated this short novel. Ali Smith's language is like a maze for the mind. It's both stilted and beautiful, a stream of consciousness that reworks the reader's own thoughts into a new pattern. It feels like a freeing of the consciousness but also like a new set of walls. It takes you outside your own experience of time, but forces you into someone else's, stating with a character's death dreamscape. It's not always comfortable. In many ways reminded me of my recent reading of Alice in Wonderland, a mix of the real and fantastic, full to the brim with intertextuality and metaphor. It is memorable in the best kind of fashion. Many thanks to Ali Smith, Hamish Hamilton/Penguin Books, and Netgalley for the chance to read this in exchange for an honest review.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Maxwell

    Nobody writes like Ali Smith. That's absolutely my favorite thing about her books. Once you start reading you remember just how witty, observant, and playful she is, and how that comes through so clearly through her writing style. It's no different in Autumn, the first in a quartet of seasonal novels the author has begun, musing on art, politics, and the tumultuous nature of life in all its different seasons. This first installment is clearly a post-Brexit musing—but that's not all it aims to be. Nobody writes like Ali Smith. That's absolutely my favorite thing about her books. Once you start reading you remember just how witty, observant, and playful she is, and how that comes through so clearly through her writing style. It's no different in Autumn, the first in a quartet of seasonal novels the author has begun, musing on art, politics, and the tumultuous nature of life in all its different seasons. This first installment is clearly a post-Brexit musing—but that's not all it aims to be. Ali Smith paints the lovely picture of a friendship between a young woman and elderly man alongside the exploration of a forgotten historical figure, Pauline Boty (the only female British Pop artist). Fans of How to be both will enjoy this artistic examination. Smith also muses on the state of our world, its news cycle, and the complicated nature of knowledge vs belief. It's a timely novel, and one that I'm not surprised to see on the Man Booker longlist this year. Though it wasn't my favorite Smith novel, I can see it standing the test of time, especially as she goes on to explore more in the next 3 installments. I may even find it more enjoyable upon a re-read, as with any Smith work, there is so much to uncover.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Margitte

    I love the word quotidian and it has to do with the following quote from the book: Here's and old story so new that it's still in the middle of happening. Writing itself right now with no knowledge of where or how it'll end. To me, this is the essence of this literary work. Time travel is real, Daniel said. We do it all the time. Moment to moment, minute to minute. And that's what makes us all quotidian beings, writing our own histories while reading other's stories. We're all in this time capsule I love the word quotidian and it has to do with the following quote from the book: Here's and old story so new that it's still in the middle of happening. Writing itself right now with no knowledge of where or how it'll end. To me, this is the essence of this literary work. Time travel is real, Daniel said. We do it all the time. Moment to moment, minute to minute. And that's what makes us all quotidian beings, writing our own histories while reading other's stories. We're all in this time capsule, on a slow boat to nowhere, since we do not know what our next memories will be, or where our own stories will end. Daniel, or Mr. Gluck is introduced to the reader where he lies on the beach, naked, not knowing if he's dead or young again. “He must be dead, he is surely dead, because his body looks different from the last time he looked down at it, it looks better, it looks rather good as bodies go … But pure joy! He’d forgotten what it feels like, to feel.” He feels stripped of all the “rotting rot … till everything is light as a cloud”. From there his memories enter his bubble of transitional existence where he is already connecting with the future life after life, while still being connected to the reality of the Maltings Care Providers plc where his one-hundred-and-one-year-old body is taken care of, and where 32 year-old Elisabeth Demand (or de Monde-"from the world" , as Daniel explained it) visits him regularly. The old man and young girl met in 1963 when Elisabeth was eight years old and he moved into the house next door. They both reminiscent about their lives, while he is sleeping, longer periods at a time, and she sits next to his bed, reading. He is in “the increased sleep period” that “happens when people are close to death”. “His eyes are closed and watery. There’s a long time between each breath in and out. In that long time there’s no breathing at all, so that every time he breathes out there’s the possibility that he might not breathe in again.”There's a charm, a futility in the author's cynicism. A smile in her experience with Post Office burocracy, a melancholy in her research for her dissertation of the life of Pop artist Pauline Boty. By studying the life of this artist, she comes to terms with her own rebelliousness so similar to that of Boty. Pauline Boty is also the connection between Elisabeth and Daniel. He collected Boty's art. He loved arty art. He taught Elisabeth to approach life from a different angle than the mundane. With the appearance of Daniel, and with him, Boty, in her life, she no longer felt ignored, faceless, forgotten. She was Boty in the making, without the tragic ending, thanks to Daniel. By studying Boty, she was studying herself, and continued life where Boty left off. Her mother is her life as well as caregiver, her protector, but not her role model while she grew up. Her father doesn't have a face. Through the plot the mother-daughter relationship is slowly changing as Elisabeth's insight into quotidian existentialism increases. Friendship becomes possible. Love is clinical, except where Daniel is concerned. She understands the cycles of life, and the role of leaves and Daniel in her own story. There's no callousness in this first post-Brexit tale. Not exactly. No technicolor love lost. No need. No want. Postmodernist feminism at perfect play. However, it's deeply moving tale. Intense, a few moments in history condensed. A philosophical travel through the continuance of time. Some stories have no beginning and no ending. It's just...well...quotidian.

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