Review: Autumn, Ali Smith

Have I mentioned that Autumn is my favourite time of year? Seven years of writing about Autumn on this blog later, I think it’s fair to say I’ve made my feelings about this season pretty clear. So it seems apt that the most recent book I read was the beautiful Autumn by Ali Smith which challenged, confused and moved me in all the right ways.

I really didn’t know what to expect when I picked this one up (the blurb doesn’t give much away) except I hoped it would be something about autumn – and it was. But it’s also about memory and loss and change. And confusingly, it’s also about Brexit.

Split between thirty two year old art professor Elisabeth and a hundred year old eccentric Daniel, Autumn follows the beginning of their unlikely friendship which began when Elisabeth was a child, while simultaneously following Elisabeth as an adult navigating through post-Brexit referendum Britain and the fact that Daniel is now in a coma in a care home. There’s a lot going on and it’s told in short, fragmented chapters which jump between past, present and Daniel’s dream world of his coma.

My first foray into Smith’s work, Autumn revealed to me a writing style that can build vivid imagery one moment and then in the next chapter strip back structure and sense to its bare bones. It’s a really interesting structure that keeps you guessing and wondering. I didn’t even realise that it was set in the summer of 2016 until the veiled references of Brexit finally sunk in. There’s something wonderful about being thrown into the deep end and finally being able to work out were you are and swim back up to the top.

I read that Smith was trying to really push at the limits of the writing and publishing time frame with Autumn and that the final season in the collection, Summer, will be coming out soon (I presume next summer?). I believe all the books in the series revolve around different characters and themes – but with a broadly political focus – so I’m excited to see what Winter brings.

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