Read Autumn by Ali Smith Online

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. ...

Title : Autumn
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Number of Pages : 264 pages
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Autumn Reviews

  • Maxwell

    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.
    ...more

  • Roger Brunyate



    Every Story Tells a Picture

    At 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

        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)

    ======



    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 Saunders

    10. Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck

    And half that number again that didn't quite make it, in alphabetical order by authors:

    11. Souvenirs dormants by Patrick Modiano

    12. All We Shall Know by Donal Ryan

    13. Improvement by Joan Silber

    14. Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout

    15. Rose & Poe by Jack Todd

    ...more

  • Seemita

    [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

    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.] ...more

  • Matthew Quann

    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
    ...more

  • Diane S ☔

    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 ...more

  • Hannah Greendale

    Click here to watch a video review of this book on my channel, From Beginning to Bookend.

  • Hannah

    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 ...more

  • Jenny (Reading Envy)

    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
    ...more