Autumn by Ali Smith (Man Booker long list 2017)

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All across the country, the country split in pieces. All across the country, the countries cut adrift.

All across the country, the country was divided, a fence here, a wall there, a line drawn here, a line crossed there,

a line you don’t cross here,
a line you better not cross there,
a line of beauty here,
a line dance there,
a line you don’t even know exists here,
a line you can’t afford there,
a whole new line of fire,
line of battle,
end of the line,
here/there.

When she is young, and talking to Daniel who is old, Elizabeth gets to see things in her imagination while Daniel sees them in his memory.

They have a relationship of great beauty,  built on truth and understanding. It is absolutely opposite the relationship she has with her mother, which has been eroded by lies and deceit.

Elizabeth is 13, and David is 85, and they are friends. When they walk, they talk. David tells her about books. Songs. Poets, like Keats. Or, Sylvia Plath.

But now she is trying to visit him in the hospital, and she can’t get the Post Office to process her passport so that she has proper identification. Her picture is all wrong: her head is the wrong size (!) and that bit of hair shouldn’t be touching her forehead. (Oh, sister, have I been there! Bureaucracy, officious officials, ridiculousness at every turn, thwarting the honest person simply trying to follow the rules.)

Within their story are lovely games with language. Like this:

Isn’t it a bit too far, to walk as far as the river? Elisabeth said.

She didn’t want him to have to go so far if he really was as ancient as her mother kept saying.

Not for me, Daniel said. A mere bagatelle.

A what? Elisabeth asked.

A trifle, Daniel said. Not that kind of trifle. A mere nothing. Something trifling.

The book is called Autumn, and within its pages Daniel is taking leaf of his senses, the images of leaves is woven throughout; from the very beginning where he sews himself some clothes from leaves to cover his nakedness, to the end where a leaf talks to him, telling him that falling is the very thing leaves do.

We’re in a never ending leaf-fall.

It’s amazing what Ali Smith is able to do: tell a story that encompasses age and youth and friendship and the fragile times of our history, (the stories unfolding in front of us right now) which seem to make no sense, but still deserve to be examined.

Loved it.

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12 thoughts on “Autumn by Ali Smith (Man Booker long list 2017)”

  1. I have read two other novels by Ali Smith and loved them both. I love her way with language and her generosity and kindness to her characters. I’ll definitely be looking out for this one, thank you for the splendid review.

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    1. This is the first worknod Ali Smith’s I’ve read, though of course I’ve heard of her work for quite some time. I really like how you said “generosity and kindness to her characters”; what a perfect description! Autumn will surely not disappoint you.

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  2. I’m a big fan of Smith (I’ve read all her books) but I was a little concerned by how much of this was taken up by her clever characters ridiculing those less educated (Post Office, guard at fence, doctor’s surgery…). I do seem to be the only one who feels this way!

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    1. I was totally with her on the scorn for the people at the Post Office, having a worse than similar experience. What bored? annoyed? concerned? me was her preoccupation with the female artist, which as the book went on I realized was a focal point for Smith. This is not a politically correct point of view right now, but for me a little feminism goes a long way. 😮

      I do seem to be the only one who feels that way.

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