Autumn by Ali Smith

Daniel is sleeping in his bed at the care home. He is slowly making his way closer to death.

Elisabeth, a girl who used to live next door, whom Daniel babysat and inspired while Elisabeth’s mother went on dates, discovers his care home is not far from where her mother now lives and comes home more and more often to visit Daniel, pretending to be his granddaughter, waiting patiently for him to wake.

I’m not sure what to make of Autumn. In many ways it is as if the sharp and intellectualised world of How to be Both continues. An interest in story and art, gender, a neglected painter, relationships between people of different generations, breathes on in characters who also have an awareness of loss and an interest in the past. Word play and an exploration of the languages of vision, sound, music and nature also persist in the writing of Autumn. But whose autumn is the book discussing? Daniel’s? The relationship between Daniel and Elisabeth? The fecund autumn of Elisabeth’s mother? Ours? Not just Britain’s in its post-Brexit muddle of tension and division but humanities as a whole? All of us walking towards our end of days, one hope the voice that asks ‘sure you want war?’ the other a reminder that Spring comes after Winter?

Those familiar with Ali Smith will be unsurprised by the kind of interrogation reading her work provokes. A relatively simple story overflows with connections, references and suggestions. We learn about the British female pop artist, Pauline Boty. We question how to protest injustice and prejudice. I found the mirrors and metamorphoses delightful and strangely light. Like watching the sparkle of dead skin cells in a beam of sunlight, the story of these lives is bright, multifaceted, ephemeral; the seeds of the past dancing in the wind. Ali Smith isn’t for everyone, but if you enjoy this kind of writing, make a pot of tea, find a comfy place to sit and read Autumn all in one go. You’ll have a blast.

I’m currently reading May We Be Forgiven by A. M. Homes. I’ll post a review later this coming week.

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