Ali Smith's Autumn is the first of four seasons novels. I understand they are independent novels, but I'm sure they will talk to each other in fascinating ways. Critics have considered it the first major post-Brexit novel. While it does cover some of that territory, it's much more than that. The dread about the results of "The Vote" can be directly applied to America. It's immediate and expansive. No wonder it's shortlisted for the Booker.
This is a book that has an extremely dense thread count. It's not linear. It read like a long prose poem. I don't know that I've read too many novels that are this "experimental." But Smith is being careful as much as she's being playful. Nothing feels capricious (except when it's inentional). The quotes I've copied below are fairly bleak, but I promise you, there is a pervasive "stop and smell the roses"/"rise above the muck" element that I adored. The autumn here is often hot and humid. Leaves are falling. Winter is coming, but there are wondrous bursts of color and life. Much like the autumn I'm experiencing right now.
The primary story involves the close friendship between Elisabeth, a young art professor and her old, dying neighbor Daniel. There are imagined conversations, dreams, flashbacks, and cringe-funny passport renewal scenes at the post office. We also get to see Elisabeth working on her dissertation on Britain's pop artist Pauline Boty.
I was able to finish this in a couple days. I've never read Smith, but I'm keen to try others.
The opening sentences:
"It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times. Again. That's the thing about things. They fall apart, always have, always will, it's in their nature. So an old man washes up on the shore. He looks like a punctured football with its stitching split, the leather kind that people kicked a hundred years ago."
(Elisabeth frequently reads to Daniel. One of the books is A Tale of Two Cities by Dickens.)
And it continues with lines like these:
"Can you be hungry and dead? Course you can, all those hungry ghosts eating people's hearts and minds."
"Someone killed an MP, she tells Daniel's back as she struggles to keep up. 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."
"Anonymous people start to add tweet-sized comments about Daniel beneath Daniel. They are commenting on his ability to change things. The comments get more and more unpleasant. They start to make a sound like a hornet mass and Elisabeth notices what looks like liquid excrement is spreading very close to her bare feet. She tries not to step in any of it."
"The pauses are a precise language, more a language than actual language is, Elisabeth thinks."
"He had a voice off old films where things happen to well-dressed warplane pilots in black and white."
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