Fusing Keatsian mists and mellow fruitfulness with the vitality, the immediacy and the colour hit of Pop Art - via a bit of skullduggery - Autumn is a witty excavation of the present by the past.
Autumn is a take on popular culture and a meditation in a world growing ever more bordered: what constitutes richness and worth?
Autumn is the first instalment in Seasonal: four stand-alone stories, separate yet interconnected and cyclical, exploring what time is and how we experience it.
If you've met Ali Smith's work before, you'll know not to expect a conventional chronological story! Elisabeth Demand in present time is a 32-year-old junior history of art lecturer 'living the dream' according to her mother, but not so great for Elisabeth with no permanent contract and living in her old student flat. The narrative threads weave in and out of the previous 24 years going back to Elisabeth as an 8 year-old forging the loving friendship with a new elderly neighbour Daniel Gluck, the first seriously interesting person she has ever known who collects art (particularly the work of 1960s pop artist Pauline Boty who died in her twenties and in real time now outside the novel is being rediscovered), and who always asks Elisabeth what she is reading. As a 32 year-old, Elisabeth is visiting the much-loved Gluck now aged 101 who is slipping in and out of a dreamworld of memories as he slowly dies.
Pauline Boty and her work is one of the recurrent themes of this inventive and allusive book; along with the Profumo Affair (Boty painted a picture of Christine Keeler sitting on that chair backwards); and Elisabeth's repeated efforts to get her Check and Send passport application sent off only to find her head in her photo is ruled to be the wrong size after queuing for hours at the Post Office. These themes are tightly secured within an up to the very last moment post-Brexit Britain (how did this book come out so soon??), although neither the word 'Brexit' nor 'referendum' are mentioned - just the distress and perplexity of the country; and an unequal society regulated with mind-numbing rules.
What provides another layer to this intriguing, linguistically inventive, stream-of-thoughts novel are the allusions. This is Autumn (the other three seasons are to follow), the season of falling leaves, Keatsian mists and sycamore wings, all part of the pattern of dream and reality, death and renewal, loss and rediscovery: the fabric behind the novel's never-ending stories. Elisabeth is reading Brave New World, which is ironic as she waits her turn in the Post Office queue, and there are echoes in Smith's syntax throughout of the Tale of Two Cities - the best of times, the worst of times. In the very last sentence of the novel she has tucked in an unacknowledged quoted phrase 'wanwood, leafmeal' from Gerard Manley Hopkins's beautiful and apposite poem of 'unleaving' and grieving, 'Spring and Fall', which says it all about this season.
I haven't heard this narrator Melody Grove before, but she is impressive with what must be a very difficult book to read out loud. She helps make sense of what is sometimes quirky and quite difficult to follow, and makes Elisabeth from child to adult a real person. This is a novel you could listen to more than once and find more in it each time.
16 of 18 people found this review helpful
This was a very odd read. It felt like quality writing which was trying to give different layers of meaning but I have absolutely no idea what on earth the story (was there a story?) was about or what any of it meant. Quite strange!
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
I wanted to listen to it all over again once I’d finished. So many profound reflections hidden without the narrative.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
All in all accessible, sometimes confusing, sometimes too arty art, sometimes fragmentary. The chapter about Brexit is extraordinary. Story line often victim of artistic breakdown. Narrator was astonishing.
Ali Smith has a wonderful way with words, describing a relationship between a young girl and her eccentric older neighbour, which seems to mirror the title of this book. Autumn shows the blossoming and withering of a man, Daniel Gluck, describing his younger years as a respected art critic of sorts, and the beauty he was constantly surrounded by. When he meets the younger Elisabeth Demand, he is already in the process of change, but she continues to help him feel alive, while he has a mentor-like relationship with her.
In between, Smith describes all of the major events plaguing Britain. From protesting the Iraq war, to Brexit doom, the perpetual markers that appear in the background of this constant, unwaning friendship. Can love and art really triumph over war? Smith believes it can.
The main issue with this novel is the fact that it is completely disjointed, and ends on a quite anti-climactic note. Read for the tone and not the story.
A book suggested by my book club. So, so glad. Beautifully constructed & wonderfully performed.
Really beautifully narrated. A wonderful story, which is woven really smartly. Lots to think about. No real answers here but just beautiful.
Can't wait fir Winter to be recorded.
This is a book I'll be listening to at least once more!
What are you reading?
All the above will make sense when you listen to this book.
This book may just be your own terrible fight or your own lovely bit-alone-as you watch the images cajoled from your essence. And everybody around it not taking any notice.
Thanks for the Words Ali.
All of you.. read this, and "Public Library."
1 of 5 people found this review helpful
Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?
Highly recommended. Intelligent. Funny. Fierce. My first Ali Smith, have moved straight on to Winter. Can't wait.
What did you like best about this story?
It's unpredictability, a 'love affair' like no other.
What about Melody Grove’s performance did you like?
Loved Melody Grove's performance. I hope she will narrate the entire quartet.
Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?