Autumn
Autumn. Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. That's what it felt like for Keats in 1819. How about Autumn 2016? 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. Ali Smith's new novel is a meditation on a world growing ever more bordered and exclusive, on what richness and worth are, on what harvest means. It is the first installment of her Seasonal quartet--four stand-alone books, separate yet interconnected and cyclical (as the seasons are)--and it casts an eye over our own time. Who are we? What are we made of? Shakespearean jeu d'esprit, Keatsian melancholy, the sheer bright energy of 1960s pop art: the centuries cast their eyes over our own history making. Here's where we're living. Here's time at its most contemporaneous and its most cyclic. From the imagination of the peerless Ali Smith comes a shape-shifting series, wide-ranging in time-scale and light-footed through histories, a story about aging and time and love and stories themselves.

Autumn Details

TitleAutumn
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseOct 20th, 2016
PublisherHamish Hamilton
ISBN-139780241207000
Rating
GenreFiction, Contemporary, Literary Fiction, Novels

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Autumn Review

  • Adina
    January 1, 1970
    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.
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  • Ilse
    January 1, 1970
    This is EnglandAutumn is to be the first instalment of ‘a seasonal quartet’ that Ali Smith plans to write - 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 instalment was a wondrous introduction to Smith’s prose for me, so I eagerly look forward to the next parts now.Autumn is a playful, multi-layered and at times delectably subversive novel on the floating of time, aging, This is EnglandAutumn is to be the first instalment of ‘a seasonal quartet’ that Ali Smith plans to write - 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 instalment was a wondrous introduction to Smith’s prose for me, so I eagerly look forward to the next parts now.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.
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  • Diane S ☔
    January 1, 1970
    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.
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  • Barry Pierce
    January 1, 1970
    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 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.
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  • Hannah Greendale
    January 1, 1970
    Click here to watch a video review of this book on my channel, From Beginning to Bookend.
  • Fionnuala
    January 1, 1970
    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 any more 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 sort of read it between the leaves…
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  • Hugh
    January 1, 1970
    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.
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  • Cheri
    January 1, 1970
    "April come she willWhen streams are ripe and swelled with rainMay she will stayResting in my arms againJune she'll change her tuneIn 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 willWhen streams are ripe and swelled with rainMay she will stayResting in my arms againJune she'll change her tuneIn 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 flyAnd give no warning to her flightAugust die she mustThe autumn winds blow chilly and coldSeptember I rememberA love once new has now grown old” -- “April Come She Will” lyrics by Paul Simon Published 07 Feb 2017Many thanks for the ARC provided by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group / Pantheon
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  • Hannah
    January 1, 1970
    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.”
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  • Dianne
    January 1, 1970
    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.
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  • Trish
    January 1, 1970
    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.
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  • Jenny (Reading Envy)
    January 1, 1970
    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.
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  • Paul
    January 1, 1970
    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.”
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  • Seemita
    January 1, 1970
    [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.]
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  • Simon
    January 1, 1970
    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.
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  • William1
    January 1, 1970
    Heaps of spine-tingling narrative pleasure. One feels one’s short hairs standing on end while reading. Horripilating, is that the word? Like migraine aura but far more fun. 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 wi Heaps of spine-tingling narrative pleasure. One feels one’s short hairs standing on end while reading. Horripilating, is that the word? Like migraine aura but far more fun. 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.
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  • Lark Benobi
    January 1, 1970
    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.
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  • Matthew Quann
    January 1, 1970
    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 '63I 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!
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  • PattyMacDotComma
    January 1, 1970
    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 Affairhttps://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...
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  • Emma
    January 1, 1970
    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.
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  • Teresa
    January 1, 1970
    4.5Death, 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 4.5Death, 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.
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  • MJ Nicholls
    January 1, 1970
    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.
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  • Maxwell
    January 1, 1970
    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.
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  • Roger Brunyate
    January 1, 1970
    Every Story Tells a PictureAt 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 PictureAt 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 Saunders10. Go, Went, Gone by Jenny ErpenbeckAnd half that number again that didn't quite make it, in alphabetical order by authors:11. Souvenirs dormants by Patrick Modiano12. All We Shall Know by Donal Ryan13. Improvement by Joan Silber14. Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout15. Rose & Poe by Jack Todd
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  • Gill
    January 1, 1970
    December 2016I re-read this at the start of December and still think about it. I've upgraded it to 5 stars.'Autumn' by Ali Smith4.5 stars/ 9 out of 10From the opening sentence (which is referential to the opening of one of Dickens' novels), to the end of this novel, Ali Smith has created a beautiful story which can be read on many levels. Ostensibly it is the story of the friendship between a young woman and an elderly man, that started when the young woman was a child. But there are layers behi December 2016I re-read this at the start of December and still think about it. I've upgraded it to 5 stars.'Autumn' by Ali Smith4.5 stars/ 9 out of 10From the opening sentence (which is referential to the opening of one of Dickens' novels), to the end of this novel, Ali Smith has created a beautiful story which can be read on many levels. Ostensibly it is the story of the friendship between a young woman and an elderly man, that started when the young woman was a child. But there are layers behind layers behind layers. Smith has skilfully developed a storyline which is both set at a very specific point in time i.e. soon after the Brexit vote, and is also timeless.Ali Smith is a very astute writer. The scene early on, in the post office, was amusing in its terrible accuracy. However, there is also much poignancy within the novel. I very much enjoyed the subtle references to other literature e.g. The Tempest, Alice in Wonderland, Keats' 'Ode to Autumn'. There were several passages in the novel that made me look at Dickens in a new way.Throughout the book there are beautiful descriptions of autumn progressing. This theme extends much further than the actual season though.This is a thoughtful and thought provoking novel. I intend to re-read it in the near future. I understand that it is the first of four 'seasonal' novels by Ali Smith, and I am looking forward to the publication of the next one.Thank you to Penguin Books UK and to NetGalley for an ARC.
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  • Paul Fulcher
    January 1, 1970
    Update: Shortlisted for the Booker and it would be a wonderfully worthy winner - and the novel has aged better than I had predicted - if anything as the written-as-you-read-it Brexit autumn leaves have faded, the evergreen parts of the text show through.Pauline Boty with her, now lost, painting Scandal 63 based on (a variation of) the famous Christine Keeler photographic portrait by Lewis Morley.For my full review of Autumn please see the excellent Mookse and Gripes blog (to which this review is Update: Shortlisted for the Booker and it would be a wonderfully worthy winner - and the novel has aged better than I had predicted - if anything as the written-as-you-read-it Brexit autumn leaves have faded, the evergreen parts of the text show through.Pauline Boty with her, now lost, painting Scandal 63 based on (a variation of) the famous Christine Keeler photographic portrait by Lewis Morley.For my full review of Autumn please see the excellent Mookse and Gripes blog (to which this review is my first contribution).http://mookseandgripes.com/reviews/20...Postscript to my own review: It was interesting to read in her Artful a quote from the narrator of Juan Pablo Villalobos's Down the Rabbit Hole:Books don't have anything in them about the present, only the past and the future. This is one of the biggest defects of books. Someone should invent a book that tells you what's happening at this moment, as you read.Autumn was a partial attempt to do something like that. One reservation I had was that "The effect of reading it almost in real-time, in today’s United Kingdom, is very effective, but the novel will, I suspect, read very differently in ten years’ time, perhaps even next year." I was a little too optimistic on that - we now have a novel that runs into November 2016, a narrator who concerns itself with political issues, but she fails to mention President Trump.-------------------------------------------------------------Here’s an 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.Ali Smith’s Autumn has claim to be the first Brexit based novel, published less than four months after the United Kingdom voted, on June 23rd, to leave the European Union in a referendum, surprising most pundits and exposing new political fault lines that cut across the usual left / right divide.Smith’s previous novel, How to both, swept the United Kingdom’s literary slate in 2014, winning the Goldsmiths Prize, the Costa Novel of the Year, and the Bailey’s Prize, while being shortlisted for the Folio Prize and the Man Booker Prize, an unusual feat given the diverse criteria of each award. It also came with a distinctive feature: written in two halves set 500 years apart, 50% of the copies were printed with the present day story first, and 50% started with the 15th century part.The ability of her publishers to accommodate this unusual request so quickly inspired Smith to adapt Autumn, a novel long-planned as the first in a quartet on the seasons, to incorporate the emerging events.Her publishers have certainly delivered with the physical book. The hardback cover is a rich autumnal reddish-brown and comes with a wrap-around of Early November Tunnel by David Hockney.The story starts in late June, days after the Brexit vote, opening with, “It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times” (Smith hardly disguises her personal view on the E.U. vote) in a conscious echo of Dicken’s A Tale of Two Cities, and takes us up to November 2016. Tackled now, the reader experiences the present day world of the novel as he or she reads it, both current affairs and the changing of the seasons.October’s a blink of an 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, then 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 damp at its edges, the plants calm in the folding themselves away, the beads of the condensation on the webstrings hung between things.On the warm days it feels wrong, so many leaves falling.But the nights are cool to cold.Elisabeth Demand (the non-standard spelling of her first name, and the unusual surname both feature in Smith’s, at times, overdone word play) is 32 years old in 2016, a “no-fixed-hours casual contract lecturer at a university in London” concerned personally for the loss of E.U. funding as well as what the Brexit vote says about her society.She has a long-standing and deep friendship with Daniel Gluck, 70 years her senior and now in an “increased sleep period” in a care home, having first met him when, aged nine, she moved in next door. The novel takes us back through the history of their unusual friendship.Gluck himself reveals little of his own story, although from what is said we can infer that his adored and brilliant younger sister (“he now knows for sure that when she grows up she is going to be a great force in the world, an important thinker, a changer of things”) was lost in the Holocaust in her early 20s and that Gluck himself, although safe in England, was interred with his German father.Gluck also found brief fame as writer of an early 1960s one-hit wonder, Summer Brother, Autumn Sister, inspired by Keatsian imagery and his own sister, and through that becomes involved in the pop-art and music scene, meeting the, unreciprocated, love of his life, the real life British female pop-artist and actress Pauline Body, dubbed the “Wimbledon Bardot.”Boty’s true story, as told by Smith, is in many respect the novel’s most interesting. Renowed for her stunning beauty, her artistic contribution was often overlooked. A write up of her work in Scene magazine in November 1962, intended to be supportive, read:Actresses often have tiny brains. Painters often have large beards. Imagine a brainy actress who is also a painter and also a blonde, and you have PAULINE BOTY.And after her early death, itself a tragic and fascinating story, Boty’s work was largely forgotten. Elisabeth as a fictional character, and Ali Smith as the author, play an important role in bringing her back to our attention.Boty’s most famous painting, now lost, was Scandal 63, based on (a variation of) the famous Christine Keeler photograph by Lewis Morley. This brings the story neatly on to the 1963 Profumo Scandal, where the British defense minister and a Soviet attaché shared a high-class call-girl lover, Keeler, leading to the resignation of the minister and indirectly the retirement of the Prime Minister. The scandal rocked the public’s trust in politicians, and Smith draws a direct link between that and the political mistruths on both sides of the rather demeaning 2016 referendum campaign.Gluck’s relationship with Boty verges on that of an elder brother, and one cannot help but conclude that Boty represents a substitute for his sister, as, 30 years later, does Elisabeth.The friendship between the young Elisabeth and a man in his 80s is replayed in the novel in conversations involving word-play and deep discussions on the nature of stories and fiction that don’t ring entirely true, at least as far as the, in this passage 11-year-old, girl’s contribution is concerned:The word gymkhana, Daniel said, is a wonderful word, a word grown from several languages.Words don’t get grown, Elisabeth said.They do, Daniel said.Words aren’t plants, Elisabeth said.Words are themselves organisms, Daniel said.Oregano-isms, Elisabeth said.Herbal and verbal, Daniel said.But we are later told Elisabeth herself doesn’t remember the conversations at all today, and Daniel in the present day is largely lost in dreams, so I came to think of Elisabeth’s side of the verbal sparring as largely imagined by Daniel in terms of how his verbally brilliant sister once spoke to him.Daniel does inspire in Elisabeth a love of books, and she returns the favour as he lies dying, reading to him from the key texts on which the novel is based, Keats’s poems, Brave New World, The Tempest (from which Huxley took his title), and Ovid’s Metamorphoses.The Brexit vote itself at times feels a little shoe-horned in. It is most memorably captured in an extended chapter, of which a brief part reads: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. All across the country people felt they’d done the right thing and other people had done the wrong thing. All across the country, people looked up Google: what is EU? All across the country people looked up Google move to Scotland. All across the country, people looked up Google Irish passport applications. All across the country, people called each other cunts. All across the country, people felt unsafe. All across the country, people were laughing their heads off. All across the country, people felt legitimised. All across the country, people felt bereaved and sick.But throughout the present day parts of the story, the shadow of the vote hovers. The intolerance, on all sides, and the lack of mutual comprehension is best expressed by Elisabeth’s mother: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 these 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 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.This is a lengthy review because Smith has packed a lot in what is actually quite a short novel. At one point, Elisabeth finds her mind drifting over various images from the preceding days: some cow parsley in the background of a TV show about antique bargain hunters, flowers painted over xenophobic graffiti on a house, and Pauline Boty’s painting of Jean-Paul Belmondo. She wonders if she can pull this together: “The cow parsley. The painted flowers. Boty’s sheer unadulterated reds in the re-image-ing of the image. Put it together and what have you got? Anything useful?”Playing devil’s advocate, one could argue that the novel has a similar issue. Smith has taken her original idea of an Autumnal novel, her discovery of the life and artwork of Pauline Boty, her research into the Profumo scandal, and the current events around Brexit, and put them together in a slightly uneasy mix.One key theme of the novel is how, in today’s society, times and current affairs move so fast that they leave no trace. Elisabeth listens to the news “to catch up on the usual huge changes there’ve been in the last half hour,” and referring to the real-life killing of the British MP Jo Cox by someone angered by her support for Syrian refugees: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.That very effect highlights one key weakness of the novel. The novel is so much based on its time and place I wonder how it will age and travel.While the wider social forces behind the Brexit vote would certainly resonate, e.g., with the U.S. Presidential election or indeed rise of populist parties across Europe, specifics such as the extended, and amusing, story of Elisabeth’s struggles with the Post Office’s hapless Check and Send passport service and their incestuous relationship with Snappy Snaps, may not.The effect of reading it almost in real-time, in today’s United Kingdom, is very effective, but the novel will, I suspect, read very differently in ten years’ time, perhaps even next year.Indeed like autumn leaves, the brilliant colours of Smith’s prose may also mark its ultimately short life expectancy.Highly recommended, but best read while its colours blaze.
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  • Michael
    January 1, 1970
    This is a rewarding story of friendship over the long haul, the kind that seems to stand outside time. The relationship is between a female art historian and an elderly family neighbor, a man who listened to and empowered her from starting around age 10. We dip into the past of their connection as we experience Elisabeth in our present communing with her buddy Daniel in his lucid moments at a nursing home during his final fade with dementia at age 101. There is a sense of refuge and sanity for h This is a rewarding story of friendship over the long haul, the kind that seems to stand outside time. The relationship is between a female art historian and an elderly family neighbor, a man who listened to and empowered her from starting around age 10. We dip into the past of their connection as we experience Elisabeth in our present communing with her buddy Daniel in his lucid moments at a nursing home during his final fade with dementia at age 101. There is a sense of refuge and sanity for her there amid the disturbing regression of civilization surrounding the Brexit vote of the UK. As was true in two other Smith novels I read, there is an aesthetic quest of characters to adapt artistic perceptions to frame their reality and that of the world. I appreciated how this tale opened an interest for me in a woman pop artist, Pauline Boty, and the way her work figured in the amazing bond between Elisabeth and Daniel despite the age separation of 50-plus years. As a fan of development, I loved the windows on Elisabeth’s evolution from a tough point of isolation and loss of her father. However, my modest rating reflects liking her earlier books (The Accidental and How to Be Both) better because they had key characters are directly involved in creating art (photography and painting). Upon first meeting Daniel, Elisabeth is getting troubled by the hypocrisies in the adult world and is at the point rejecting all moral precepts. He respects her as an equal and is willing to be playful or serious depending on her needs, but always he helped her to nurture her own vision. She is able to confess to him her worry of forgetting how to picture her father. He assures her of the importance of forgetting (“It means we get a bit of a rest”) and advises her with this balm:I imagine that whatever it is I’ve forgotten is folded close to me, like a sleeping bird. …Then, what I do is, I just hold it there, without holding it too tight, and I let it sleep.As games, Daniel challenges her imagination to make up own rules for perceiving meaning in the world, such as making up alternative endings to classic stories and fables. He models how to mentally trip beneath the surfaces of things (which reminded me a bit of Nabokov’s “Transparent Things”) or bounce around different perspectives, scales, and time. Sometimes this feels like the prepositional expansions in the song about “a frog on a knot on log in the bottom of the sea” or like an analogy to fractals having comparable patterns in their parts as in the whole. Other times, surprising zingers of insight make ripples in my mind which seem to grow as they progress rather than fading. For example, at an early point Elisabeth asks him if he would like to time travel:Time travel is real, Daniel said,. We do it all the time. Moment to moment, minute to minute.Often Daniel paints pictures in words, evoking an imagination of particular paintings composed of collages of images and riots of color. Later, she discovers the imaginings were of real paintings by an artist who worked in New York in the early 60s. Pauline Boty made a big splash in the art world with her pop-art innovations, but fell out of attention when she died young and most of her works were lost for a long time in family basements and sheds. As the realm of this book is imagination inspired by words, I consider images of Boty’s work a spoiler. I put a few examples here if your curiosity must be slaked:(view spoiler)[A great introduction of Boty and her work is to be found in a piece by Smith in The Guardian (Oct. 22, 2016) (see also this collection: Gallery).I like the warm heart and designs behind this portrait of Monroe as a sort of wallpaper, which bears obvious similarities to Warhol:Colour Her GoneI feel the sensuous joy and fun in this one with its countdown and the words “Oh, for a fu…” pushing out of the frame:5-4-3-2-1Boty became almost a performance artist by frequently posing playfully before her work in her studio, such as here in front of her version of the movie actor Jean-Paul Belmondo:A significant amount of Boty’s work was lost, some of which was bought up and destroyed along with other art by a wealthy man with a grudge against a particular dealer. This includes the photo below of her painting of Christine Keeler, who raised security issues by carrying on affairs at the same time with British Minister of Defense Profumo and a Russian spy. Scandal 63Smith summarizes how Boty embraced pop-art:Pop art revels in, is excited by and transfigures the throwaway. It grew out of the newly opened sensibilities of its artists to the pop detritus of the everyday, the culture of multiple replication of images, of movie and music icons, advertising, comics, magazines, cigarette packets, beermats, trash – a manifestation of what Boty herself called “nostalgia for NOW”: “It’s almost like painting mythology,” she said, “a present-day mythology – film stars, etc … the 20th-century gods and goddesses. People need them, and the myths that surround them, because their own lives are enriched by them. Pop art colours those myths.”Here she quotes an eloquent view of Boty’s contribution from an early BBC documentary on a set of pop artists :Boty … drops us head-first into a dream, and when the dream turns into a nightmare she slaps it in the face, wakes up into what’s now a multilayered narrative of dreamworld and mundanity, then, dressed in a top hat and tux, she mimes bizarrely in full adult voluptuousness to Shirley Temple’s child-voice singing “On the Good Ship Lollipop”, until the screen itself ruptures in a cartoon explosion. (hide spoiler)]Elisabeth ends up writing her graduate thesis on Boty. After she shares it with Daniel, he admits to Boty’s impact on him as special, which in turn stirs her profoundly: It is possible, he said, to be in love not with someone but with their eyes. I mean, with how eyes that aren’t yours let you see where you are, who you are.…We have to hope, Daniel was saying, that the people who love us and who truly know us a little bit will in the end have seen us truly. In the end, not much else matters.But coldness was shifting all through her body, wiping her into a clarity much like a soapy window by a window cleaner from top to base with a rubber blade.…It’s the only responsibility memory has, he said. But, of course, memory and responsibility are strangers. They’re foreign to each other. Memory always goes its own way regardless.It’s a bit of a stretch for me to transmute the pieces on Boty and her work to the lessons Elisabeth and Daniel forge about living a meaningful life. Somehow I gather it has to do with the re-purposing of what has been imagined and created before by others. And that maybe that has to do with transformative powers of memory to collapse time and boundaries between people. I am not sure. In poignant moments, Daniel’s cylinders spark up during his decline enough to put his finger on the cusp of living:Here’s an 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 will it’ll end. In his semi-comatose reveries, he re-purposes metamorphosis into a tree with a different message than Ovid had with Daphne’s escape from Apollo’s lust or Dante’s imprisonment of the souls of suicides:Daniel Gluck taking leaf of his senses at last, his tongue a broad green leaf, leaves growing through the sockets of his eyes, leaves thrustling (very good word for it) out of his ears, leaves tendrilling down through the caves of his nostrils and out and round till he’s swathed in foliage, leafskin, relief.When he asks a voice in his head if it is God, he gets a “Not exactly” and a long litany of this kind of Zen-speak and delightful riddles: I’m the person dead at the water’s edge. I’m the water. I’m the edge. …I’m everything that makes everything. I’m everything that unmakes everything.In the end this is a pretty joyful tale to hold up against the ugliness of the world groaning under a wave of hateful populist nationalism. The friendship across generations uplifted me in the same way as tales from Frederick Backman and a recent read of “The One-in-a-Million Boy” by Monica Wood. I look forward to others in Smith's linked series on a seasonal theme.This book was provided by the publisher for review through the Netgalley program.
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  • Susan
    January 1, 1970
    This short novel is the first in a seasonal quartet – each a standalone book, but interconnected. I was listening to a podcast, “Books and Authors” set during the Edinburgh Festival, and somebody mentioned Ali Smith reading from her new work, which mentioned Brexit shortly after the result had been announced. That was this work and Smith perfectly captures that strange atmosphere which pervaded the country during that time. Indeed, every country has moments that either unite, or divide, the peop This short novel is the first in a seasonal quartet – each a standalone book, but interconnected. I was listening to a podcast, “Books and Authors” set during the Edinburgh Festival, and somebody mentioned Ali Smith reading from her new work, which mentioned Brexit shortly after the result had been announced. That was this work and Smith perfectly captures that strange atmosphere which pervaded the country during that time. Indeed, every country has moments that either unite, or divide, the people who live there; those strange events we remember as a nation. However, central to this novel is the relationship between Elisabeth Demand and her elderly neighbour, Daniel Gluck. We see Elisabeth at various times in her life – at eight, eleven, thirteen, eighteen, as an adult. This is a book which uncovers secrets, dreams, words, our histories. It will take you from Christine Keeler to the annoyance of trying to renew your passport and through childhood to the increased sleep periods as you near the end of your life.Poignant, emotional and moving, this is a really touching read. You feel as though all Alli Smith’s infuriation and sadness is poured into her characters. She is writing about love, in this book, in an unusual way- this is not traditional romance. It is a love story that Elisabeth’s mother sometimes resents – a love story that would probably be torn apart in today’s world of social media, where people make themselves self-appointed experts; attempting to give themselves any power, however negative, in a world they feel they cannot control. She is not afraid to glorify words, literature, art and understanding. This is an ideal choice for a reading group as it has so much to discuss. I received a copy of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley, for review.
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  • Vanessa
    January 1, 1970
    I waited almost a year to read this book, and I'm glad to say I was not disappointed. Although Ali Smith is a writer that I have struggled with over the years, Autumn is probably my favourite book I've read of hers so far. Not only is the hardcover edition an absolute joy to behold and read from, it's also a poignant and timely story that has characters who fly off the page and moments of beautifully written atmospheric observation.Set mainly during the Autumn of 2016 in the aftermath of the Bre I waited almost a year to read this book, and I'm glad to say I was not disappointed. Although Ali Smith is a writer that I have struggled with over the years, Autumn is probably my favourite book I've read of hers so far. Not only is the hardcover edition an absolute joy to behold and read from, it's also a poignant and timely story that has characters who fly off the page and moments of beautifully written atmospheric observation.Set mainly during the Autumn of 2016 in the aftermath of the Brexit vote, but with plenty of flashbacks, the book follows Elisabeth and her friendship with her elderly neighbour Daniel. They have an incredibly touching relationship, viewed as odd through the eyes of Elisabeth's (at times) infuriating mother. We see their relationship at its beginning, through her years growing up, and into Elisabeth's adult years in the present day. We also hear about an elusive 1960s British female POP artist named Pauline Boty, who I will admit I will now be looking into and researching as Smith wrote about her so beautifully.I wouldn't say this novel is perfect by any means - there were parts where I found the flashbacks a little confusing (mainly to do with Daniel himself), and there were times where I didn't know what was real and what was fantasy. But I did love the humour of this novel, particularly with Elisabeth and her exchanges with other people in the community as well as her mother. And I did love the conversations with the child Elisabeth and the elderly Daniel, that sparkled with creativity and wit.I am chomping at the bit to read Winter, and luckily I won't have as long to wait this time around.
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  • Helene Jeppesen
    January 1, 1970
    This book didn’t capture me as much as some of the other Ali Smith books out there. Not that “Autumn” is not relevant to me or to this world today, because this is in many ways a book about Brexit and our view on people and the world. It’s about how things were in the past and how things are now, and it’s about the seasons changing (for the worse?). After all, the book starts out “It was the worst of times, It was the worst of times” with a nice (and not the only) reference to Dickens. But even This book didn’t capture me as much as some of the other Ali Smith books out there. Not that “Autumn” is not relevant to me or to this world today, because this is in many ways a book about Brexit and our view on people and the world. It’s about how things were in the past and how things are now, and it’s about the seasons changing (for the worse?). After all, the book starts out “It was the worst of times, It was the worst of times” with a nice (and not the only) reference to Dickens. But even though this book does have a quite pessimistic view of the contemporary world, the pessimism doesn’t come through too strongly. In this book, we follow Daniel and Elisabeth, a man and a woman who used to be neighbours. Their lives are narrated through the impeccable prose of Ali Smith which contains many layers and is a joy to read. But other than the above-mentioned, I didn’t feel like the novel was about much else and I wasn’t captivated. It’s a fictional reflection on Brexit entwined with some references to Dickens, a lot of symbolism and a simple story about two lifelong friends, and while that’s interesting enough it wasn’t enough to wow me and make me eager to get back to the book, unfortunately.
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