Cover image for Autumn : [a novel] / Ali Smith.
Title:
Autumn : [a novel] / Ali Smith.
ISBN:
9780670070039
Publication Information:
Toronto : Hamish Hamilton, 2017, c2016.

©2016
Physical Description:
264 pages ; 22 cm
General Note:
Subtitle from jacket.
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Summary

Summary

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 Kingdon 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, seperate 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 more 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.


Author Notes

Ali Smith was born in 1962 in Inverness. She is a Scottish writer. She studied at the University of Aberdeen and then at Newnham College, Cambridge, for a PhD. She worked as a lecturer at University of Strathclyde until she fell ill with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Following this she became a full-time writer[4] and now writes for The Guardian, The Scotsman, and the Times Literary Supplement.

In 2007 she was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Smith was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2015 New Year Honours for services to literature. Her short story colection includes: Free Love and Other Stories, The Whole Story and Other Stories, and The First Person and Other Stories. Her novels include: Like, Hotel World, The Accidental, Girl Meets Boy, There But For The, and How to Be Both. She was short listed for the Folio Prize 2015. She won the 2015 Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction for her novel How to be Both.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

This splendid free-form novel-the first in a seasonally themed tetralogy-chronicles the last days of a lifelong friendship between Elisabeth, a British university lecturer in London, and her former neighbor, a centenarian named Daniel. Opening with an oblique, dreamy prologue about mortality, the novel proper sets itself against this past summer's historic Brexit vote, intermittently flashing back to the early years of Elisabeth and Daniel's relationship. Though there are a few relevant subplots, including Elisabeth's nightmarish attempt to procure a new passport, as well as her fascination with the painter Pauline Boty, the general plot is appropriately shapeless, reflecting the character's discombobulated psyche. Smith (How to Be Both) deftly juxtaposes her protagonists' physical and emotional states in the past and present, tracking Elisabeth's path from precocity to disillusionment. Eschewing traditional structure and punctuation, the novel charts a wild course through uncertain terrain, an approach that excites and surprises in equal turn. Seen through Elisabeth's eyes, Daniel's deterioration is particularly affecting. Smith, always one to take risks, sees all of them pay off yet again. (Feb.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


New York Review of Books Review

"what you reading?" Daniel Gluck asks whenever he sees Elisabeth Demand in Ali Smith's latest novel, "Autumn." They are each other's favorite people in the world, even though their paths cross only intermittently and he is 69 years older than she is. "It isn't that kind of relationship," Elisabeth says at one point, to a jealous lover. "It isn't even the least bit physical. It never has been. But it's love. I can't pretend it isn't." Their extraordinary friendship forms the moral center of this beautiful, subtle work, the seventh novel by Smith, who consistently produces some of Britain's most exciting, ambitious and moving writing. When the story begins, the year is 2016, and Daniel, now 101, is quietly dying in an elder-care facility somewhere outside London. He has no family, so Elisabeth appoints herself to the position. It's always lovely between the two of them, even in this sad circumstance, but outside, ill will and menace hang thick in the air. Britain has voted to leave the European Union, a shocking turn of events that has provoked equal parts euphoria and despair. As in the United States at this perplexing moment, the nation feels as if it's turning into a different, unfamiliar place, and an ugly rift has opened in the collective psyche. Half their village isn't speaking to the other half, Elisabeth's mother tells her. Someone has spray-painted the words "go home" on the house of a family presumably believed to be immigrants. A mysterious barbed-wire enclosure has sprung up nearby, heavy with security cameras and patrolled by guards. "All across the country, people felt it was the wrong thing," Smith writes. "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." The reference to "A Tale of Two Cities" is deliberate. It's one of the works Elisabeth reads or thinks about in the novel, a list that also includes "The Tempest," "Brave New World" and "Metamorphoses." Their themes - disruption and displacement; the harshness of bureaucracy; states of wonder and states of fear; the promise of transformation; the power of storytelling itself - feature, too, in "Autumn." Smith teases out big ideas so slyly and lightly that you can miss how artfully she goes about it. Meanwhile, we check in on Daniel and Elisabeth at different points in their relationship, starting when Elisabeth is 8 and her mother tells her not to hang around their elderly neighbor. (Luckily, Elisabeth does it anyway.) As an adult, she has a precarious job and an uncertain future as a junior lecturer in art at a university in London. But like Daniel, Elisabeth has a resilience, a delight in words and stories, an imaginative playfulness that finds light in even the grayest of circumstance. Trying to renew her passport after a wait so long that she reads most of "Brave New World" before her number is called, she is informed by the postal clerk that since her photograph violates passport standards, her application will most likely be rejected. Her mind starts whirring. If it were a TV drama, Elisabeth tells the clerk, "this notion that my head's the wrong size in a photograph would mean I've probably done or am going to do something really wrong and illegal." Warming to her theme, she begins to riff on moments that might be portents of cinematic doom - a child cycling out of sight, a person driving a car while someone else waits at home - until the clerk finally slaps a "Position Closed" sign at his window. "This isn't fiction," he says. "This is the Post Office." As for Daniel, no one in the care home, seeing him gossamer-frail and barely conscious, would know what an interesting life he has led, about his career as a songwriter, about the fecundity of his imagination. As death begins to overtake him he imagines himself wrapped up in leaves and trees, dissolving into nature. He dreams of extraordinary things and in his mind revisits scenes and people from his past: former lovers; a terrifying encounter on a train as a teenager; his beloved, fiercely intelligent sister. As in Smith's 2001 novel "Hotel World," in which a young woman who has just died struggles to maintain her connection to the living, Daniel finds his memory deserting him as his consciousness slips away. Chronology skips forward and backward and sideways, moving slowly and then quickly. "A minute ago it was June," the author says. "Now the weather is September." Smith's writing is fearless and nonlinear, exploring the connectivity of things: between the living and the dead, the past and the present, art and life. She conveys time almost as if it is happening all at once, like Picasso trying to record an image from every angle simultaneously. Sometimes it's hard to grasp all the nuance, to corral all the unruly strands into a coherence, especially in Smith's most Woolfian stream-of-consciousness moments. And as interesting and thought-provoking as it is, the chapter on a '60s Pop artist named Pauline Boty, whom Daniel was in love with and who died young (though she was real and he of course is fictional), seems a little incongruous, almost as if it wandered in from a different book. But Smith's writing is light and playful, deceptively simple, skipping along like a stone on the surface of a lake, brimming with humanity and bending, despite everything, toward hope. As Daniel's sister says to him in a letter from long ago that he recalls in his twilight state, hope is "a matter of how we deal with the negative acts toward human beings by other human beings in the world, remembering that they and we are all human." "Autumn" is the first book in a planned four-volume series based on the seasons ("Winter" is coming next), and the wondrous changes wrought by autumn start to express themselves in the characters as well. Passing the house with the "go home" graffiti, Elisabeth sees that the words "we AREALREADYHOMETHANKYOU" have been painted right underneath, along with a tree and bright red flowers. A number of bouquets of real flowers have been left outside, as if in solidarity with and sympathy for the occupants. "The wild joyful brightness painted on the front of that house in a dire time" gets her thinking about color, about aesthetics, about a dozen new and exciting things that she might be able to make something of, even if she loses her job. "It's the first time she's felt like herself for quite some time," Smith writes. Even Elisabeth's depressed mother finds a reason to be undepressed. "Whoever makes up the story makes up the world," Daniel says at one point, "so always try to welcome people into the home of your story." That's what Smith does, all the time, tries to welcome people in. The best parts of "Autumn," the most moving parts, the transcendent parts, come during Elisabeth and Daniel's conversations about words, art, life, books, the imagination, how to observe, how to be. Theirs is a conversation that begins mid-paragraph and never ends. "Very pleased to meet you," Daniel says the first time, to the 8-year-old Elisabeth. "Finally." "How do you mean, finally?" Elisabeth asks. "We only moved here six weeks ago." "The lifelong friends," Daniel says. "We sometimes wait a lifetime for them." ? Smith's writing is playful, brimming with humanity and bending toward hope. SARAH lyall is a writer at large for The Times.


Library Journal Review

On the eve of the polarizing Brexit vote, a young woman reads aloud at the bedside of a semicomatose elderly man whom she visits weekly in his nursing home. When they met years earlier, Elisabeth was a neglected young girl whose single mother frequently left her at home alone, and Daniel was the much older, sophisticated European who had recently moved in next door. Elisabeth may have reminded Daniel of his beloved younger sister, who was left behind when Daniel escaped from World War II Germany. Over long walks and talks, Daniel patiently introduced Elisabeth to fine literature and to the avant-garde art of the Sixties. Many years later, Elisabeth, now an art historian, rediscovers Daniel close to death in a nursing home. As a wave of xenophobia sweeps across Europe and over to Britain, the parallels to the racism and violence in Daniel's past are striking. Verdict At the heart of Man Booker Prize nominee Smith's (How To Be Both) new novel is the charming friendship between a lonely girl and a kind older man who offers her a world of culture. This novel of big ideas and small pleasures is enthusiastically recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 8/15/16.]-Barbara Love, formerly with Kingston Frontenac P.L., Ont. © Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times. Again. That's the thing about things. They fall apart, always have, always will, it's in their nature. So an old old man washes up on a shore. He looks like a punctured football with its stitching split, the leather kind that people kicked a hundred years ago. The  sea's been rough. It has taken the shirt off his back; naked as the day I was born are the words in the head he moves on its neck, but it hurts to. So try not to move the head. What's this in his mouth, grit? it's sand, it's under his tongue, he can feel it, he can hear it grinding when his teeth move against each other, singing its sand-song: I'm ground so small, but in the end I'm all, I'm softer if I'm underneath you when you fall, in sun I glitter, wind heaps me over litter, put a message in a bottle, throw the bottle in the sea, the bottle's made of me, I'm the hardest grain to harvest to harvest the words for the song trickle away. He is tired. The sand in his mouth and his eyes is the last of the grains in the neck of the sandglass.      Daniel Gluck, your luck's run out at last.      He prises open one stuck eye. But -      Daniel sits up on the sand and the stones      - is this it? really? this? is death?      He shades his eyes. Very bright.      Sunlit. Terribly cold, though.      He is on a sandy stony strand, the wind distinctly harsh, the sun out, yes, but no heat off it. Naked, too. No wonder he's cold. He looks down and sees that his body's still the old body, the ruined knees.      He'd imagined death would distil a person, strip the rotting rot away till everything was light as a cloud.      Seems the self you get left with on the shore, in the end, is the self that you were when you went.      If I'd known, Daniel thinks, I'd have made sure to go at twenty, twenty five.      Only the good.      Or perhaps (he thinks, one hand shielding his face so if anyone can see him no one will be offended by him picking out what's in the lining of his nose, or giving it a look to see what it is - it's sand, beautiful the detail, the different array of colours of even the pulverized world, then he rubs it away off his fingertips) this is my self distilled. If so then death's a sorry disappointment.      Thank you for having me, death. Please excuse me, must get back to it, life.      He stands up. It doesn't hurt, not so much, to. Now then.      Home. Which way?      He turns a half circle. Sea, shoreline, sand, stones. Tall grass, dunes. Flatland behind the dunes. Trees past the flatland, a line of woods, all the way back round to the sea again.      The sea is strange and calm.                         Excerpted from Autumn by Ali Smith All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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