Book Review: Autumn by Ali Smith

Friday 5 January 2018 by

The first in a four-part seasonal series of books, Autumn by Ali Smith is not only an exploration of “what time is, how we experience it” but the first of a distinctly post-Brexit narrative. Written and published in a short space of time after the turbulent summer of 2016 and the EU referendum, it deals with the fallout of Brexit as it travels through the Autumn season.

The novel begins, dream-like, with Daniel Gluck – a narrative exploration of time itself and the perception of existence as he lies dreaming. Gluck, we discover, is 101-years-old and lying asleep in a residential care home, where he is visited by our other protagonist – Elisabeth. Incidentally, we meet Elisabeth in a post office, as she defiantly reads A Brave New World whilst waiting to renew her passport. Daniel was Elisabeth’s neighbour when she was a child, and through a back-and-forth narrative, we come to learn about their relationship.

The recurring theme, you will find, is the passage of time – whether that be the rapid scenes that Elisabeth imagines whilst she waits for Daniel to wake up, or the slow and thoughtful moments shared between a younger pair of protagonists. Meanwhile, there is a parallel story, that of Pauline Boty, a real artist in the 1960s whose life was tragically cut short, and whose story intersects with Daniel and Elisabeth’s in unusual ways.

This is a book of dreamlike proportions, both poetic and stark in its lyricism. You can devour it whole or savour it in small portions, but either way it will entrance you. I have never been the biggest fan of Smith’s writing before this, but somehow I am enraptured. I’m desperate to read the next in the series – Winter – just so that I can return to this world Smith has created; one of literature and nature and companionship.

Time ebbs and flows in Autumn, and you will emerge from it gasping for air. You will look up, expecting to see Autumn all around you. It is filled with golden light, rustling leaves, and that fraught relationship we all experienced post-referendum – a sense of defiance and uncertainty.

One of the best books I read in 2017, Autumn is a joy to experience – wholly and completely.

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