Hi everyone! Today I’ll be reviewing the first in Ali Smith’s quartet, the Man Booker nominated Autumn. The novel is set in the aftermath of the Brexit vote and we follow two former neighbours. Daniel is a hundred and one years old and now stays in care, while Elisabeth is in her early thirties and a junior university lecturer. We cut between the past and the present and see how their relationship has developed over the years.
The genius of Smith’s writing is on full display here. As previous readers of her work may know, she is incredibly inventive with her word choice and imagery. Every word feels deliberately chosen and the sentences are carefully constructed. Her wit shines through, even when she is dealing with quite complex or even sensitive topics. The imagery also captures how relevant Autumn is to current events. In the opening chapter Daniel describes bodies washed ashore, and I couldn’t help but recall the image of Alan Kurdi on the beach. Smith’s use of language is very clever and also evokes very powerful emotions.
The relationship between Daniel and Elisabeth I really enjoyed. There is a lovely sense of camaraderie between them, and you sense Daniel is a sort of mentor figure to Elisabeth. Certainly he has influenced her greatly in life, such as her study of art. Yet I also liked the flashbacks where we discover about Daniel’s past. Smith did an excellent job of slowly revealing information. By the end Daniel was a fully-fleshed character; he was a highly accomplished, creative individual but also seemed quite tragic. Elisabeth and her relationship with her mother was also interesting. Their relationship is a complicated one but is still filled with love and you get a real sense of that. The characters in Autumn are very likable and you can relate to them on some level.
I do have one issue with Autumn however. This is probably due to the expectations I had before I read it but I think the addition of Brexit was gimmicky. Smith never really went into enough depth for me, and when she does talk about it, it feels like it has been shoehorned in. I think because I read quotes at the front of the book saying it was ‘the first Brexit novel’ I was expected it to be at the forefront of the plot. Instead I got an Ali Smith novel with a weird, unnecessary gimmick tagging along. Interestingly, I preferred reading about the Profumo affair and Pauline Boty than current events.
Autumn is certainly worth a read, especially if you have enjoyed Smith’s previous work. Her characters are excellent and the word choice and imagery leap out with such creativity and witticisms. It is obvious why the novel was nominated for the Man Booker, and why Smith is an award-winning writer. Apart from my issue of how Brexit was dealt with in the plot I enjoyed and would recommend Autumn.
Autumn is published by Penguin and you can find more info here.