Last week I was fortunate enough to attend an event at the Lakeside Arts centre in Nottingham celebrating the authors shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker Prize. The evening featured readings from three authors, including Ali Smith as she read from her latest novel, Autumn. I really enjoyed Ali’s reading so had high hopes for Autumn which I subsequently started reading the following day!
Autumn is my favourite season, and in this book, the first of four named after the seasons, Smith presents the world we live in, and the changing times. I have seen this book referred to as the first Brexit novel, as it was published only months after the vote, and the state of the country, and its uncertainty, is one of many issues covered in this novel. With the changing world and the impact of recent political developments on our daily lives in the background, Autumn examines the relationship between two people separated by generations. Daniel Gluck is a century old and living in a care home as his long life begins to slip away from him. But whilst he contemplates the life that has passed him, he is comforted by visits from Elisabeth, a woman whom he has known since her childhood. Elisabeth was born in the 1980’s, and knew Daniel as a child when he was her neighbour. Over the course of this novel, we see the bond between the two of them over the years, and the way in which Daniel encouraged Elisabeth to think differently about the world around her.
At around 250 pages, this isn’t the longest book, but within its pages Ali Smith has packed a lot, and produced a piece of writing that is thought provoking, and provides an interesting commentary on modern life. There is a poetic, lyrical style to the writing in parts and I liked the way the changing seasons are portrayed as we see how humans adapt and change alongside our environment. The story deals with love and companionship, and the pursuit of art and how all this can bring us hope in the challenging times ahead. The novel has a non-linear structure, which may not suit all tastes but which I think works well in that it presents the passing of time, along with the reflections on the past. The chapters switched back and forth through time as we see Elisabeth and Daniel’s relationship, and also Elisabeth’s discovery of the artist Pauline Boty, whose story forms an important part of the book and made for an interesting read. I enjoyed Smith’s writing and the way that she is able to convey a mixture of emotions. There were passages of writing that dealt with aging, and uncertainty and fear which added poignancy to the story. But this was also interspersed with humour, with some amusing moments some of which were also relatable, and capture the essence of modern life. And as I turned the final pages I was left with plenty to ponder – about the journey of these characters, of the journey through the seasons, and the cycle of life.
Autumn was an enjoyable read which dealt with a vast array of themes with a backdrop that makes it very current, and very relevant. I will be interested to see what is in store in the next book in this series!