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Autumn (2016)

by Ali Smith

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Seasonal Quartet (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
1,455889,630 (3.89)1 / 272
"From the Man Booker-shortlisted and Baileys Prize-winning author of How to be both: a breathtakingly inventive new novel--about aging, time, love, and stories themselves--that launches an extraordinary quartet of books called Seasonal. Readers love Ali Smith's novels for their peerless innovation and their joyful celebration of language and life. Her newest, Autumn, has all of these qualities in spades, and--good news for fans!--is the first installment in a quartet. Seasonal, comprised of four stand-alone books, separate yet interconnected and cyclical (as are the seasons), explores what time is, how we experience it, and the recurring markers in the shapes our lives take and in our ways with narrative. Fusing Keatsian mists and mellow fruitfulness with the vitality, the immediacy, and the color hit of Pop Art, Autumn is a witty excavation of the present by the past. The novel is a stripped-branches take on popular culture and a meditation, in a world growing ever more bordered and exclusive, on what richness and worth are, what harvest means"--… (more)
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» See also 272 mentions

English (85)  Dutch (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (87)
Showing 1-5 of 85 (next | show all)
I don’t know. Honestly, this was such a jumble of literary devices that didn’t always work together and I felt like I was struggling to get my bearings every now and then. I commend the effort, I guess, but Autumn doesn’t work for me. I don’t think it’s the reader’s job to make sense of a novel.

It’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy parts. There were some bits I really wish had been expanded to the full novel. But the mix of prose was jarring. I read Winter as well and felt pretty much the same. I don’t think Ali Smith and I are a match. ( )
  CarleyShea | Sep 16, 2021 |
Disappointing. There are some lovely moments and language in Autumn, but Smith never lets you forget her contrivance, the wheels within wheels of her storytelling, and the points she is trying to make. Gimmicky is the best word I can come up with for the way she puts the story of Elisabeth and Daniel (and the story of post-Brexit Britain, and art, and women in general, and women in art) together. Her ideas are interesting, but, especially in the many dream sequences, tedious as fiction. Smith's writing is the literary equivalent of what character Elisabeth's mother, Wendy, dismisses as "arty art." I think I'm supposed to be ashamed to say that, but Wendy is redeemed in the end, and I don't believe in shaming myself or others about what I/they like to read, so I'm not. There's a place for all kinds of storytelling in this world. The kind Smith uses in Autumn isn't my cup of tea (I loved her short story collection, Public Library.), but that's okay, and I'll try not to resent it if it wins the Booker. ( )
  CaitlinMcC | Jul 11, 2021 |
Just splendid, can’t wait to continue with Winter. Smith writes beautifully, uses abstraction and repetition like poetry, and has a voice that is so generous, truthful and insightful. The two main characters captured my sympathies completely. It reminded me repeatedly of Lucy Ellman’s Ducks, Newburyport, for the sheer big-heartedness of it (Autumn is not, however, an unpunctuated behemoth nor is the story as oblique—a little oblique, but less than Ducks). Did I say it’s beautiful and funny and passionate about our beleaguered times. ( )
  jdukuray | Jun 23, 2021 |
Ali Smith is hard to get into. At times, there is a rarefied simplicity; at other times she goes off like a rocket into the wilderness. But the book was unexpectedly moving. There's Brexit in it for sure, but what got to me was a sense of deeply rooted history, of a helplessness replaying over and over again, and an indomitable spirit arriving in the form of Nature and the feminine. And it was a lovely portal to the work of Pauline Boty, and Christine Keeler, with whom I am not familiar with. The BUM painting made me snigger also after a quick Google search, so I can safely assume that me and Ali could be fellow comrades (?) ( )
  georgeybataille | Jun 1, 2021 |
I have found myself captivated by Ali Smith’s seasonal quartet of novels (as I’ve been reading them in the order that they were released) and currently I’ve just started the last volume, Summer. In the beginning there was Autumn, and she introduced a fascinating style where she writes about how none of us are sure about how other people are experiencing time. She has created a book that seemed free of any hard and fast storyline. The form is much looser than a typical book’s group of characters marching through time as the clock and the calendar move forward. This luscious writing style is far beyond a few flashbacks here and there, and it seemed odd at first, but it then jelled for me, as it created a series of impressions and a general feeling for the book that quickly grew on me, capturing my attention.

Since I’m still reading the last part of this four-book work, I’ve pretty much remained just a simple reader and have not analyzed or pondered much about how she accomplishes all that she does in these books, I’m just going with the flow. I am entirely fascinated with how this literary experiment will end, but as my late wife, Vicky, continually pushed me, just experience the experience, don’t overthink it.

Digression. Say you’re traveling somewhere new, you have the choice to get all anal and attempt to capture everything with your camera, without really taking it all in with your own naked eyes. Or, you can choose to be in the moment, in that place, and take it all in like humans have done as long as we have walked the planet. Many, many years ago I went to the Grand Canyon, right after I’d gotten a large zoom lens for my 35mm camera. I shot a whole heap of film, focusing closer, and closer, and closer to spectacular formations. But it was only when I ran out of color film— just as the canyon started to display its spectacular sunset colors—that I quickly took just a few black and white shots, put my camera down, and then just looked and felt the pure awe of the moment. The large crowd of people standing along the canyon’s edge became almost magically and spiritually quiet. For years I would look at those B&W shots and remember how I was so stunned by the colors of that special moment in my life. That awe was the very opposite of me and my camera zooming in again and again, becoming a little less human with each adjustment of the lens. I’m a firm believer in being human on the edge of the world. I’m just saying.

Back to August, many of the reviews were mixed as people grappled for how to see, how to summarize this book. [What lens should they use?] At first, I was confused, but then I realized that it was a very special opportunity, and that I should just read on, and let it all happen. The novel got a lot of attention when it came out as the “first Brexit novel” and in the end, made The New York Times 10 Best Books of 2017.

The book begins with Daniel Gluck dreaming that he is young again, or that he is possibly dead. There’s a relationship between Daniel and Elisabeth Demand that pops up throughout the book. Even though he’s sixty-nine years older than she is, their connection is very special. Initially, Elisabeth’s mother was wary of Elisabeth hanging out with their elderly neighbor. To me this relationship was the heart of the book, as we see them at many different points in time.

Here's some curious dialogue from their first meeting.
“Very pleased to meet you,” Daniel says the first time, to the 8-year-old Elisabeth. “Finally.”
“How do you mean, finally?” Elisabeth asks. “We only moved here six weeks ago.”
“The lifelong friends,” Daniel says. “We sometimes wait a lifetime for them.”

They continue to have fascinating conversations all through the book, touching on many subjects, where they both educate and entertain each other from their very distinctive viewpoints. Their interchanges are almost a world in themselves.

A loose connection with time fills the book, as this book could be the poster child for nonlinear writing. Smith will drop lines like “A minute ago it was June.” “Now the weather is September.” As one reviewer wrote about Smith, she is “exploring the connectivity of things: between the living and the dead, the past and the present, art and life. She conveys time almost as if it is happening all at once.” Also writing that Smith’s style is, ‘light and playful, deceptively simple, skipping along like a stone on the surface of a lake, brimming with humanity and bending, despite everything, toward hope."

This is one of those books that you’ll connect with and read with a fascination and an impatience to see what’s happening, or it simply won’t work for you. As someone over-the-moon for these books, I say to keep reading, you just might discover an incredibly unique world in these books—and just how often do you get a chance for that? ( )
  jphamilton | Mar 30, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 85 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Smith, Aliprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Alfsen, MereteTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Grove, MelodyNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hockney, DavidCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kustodiev, Boris MichaylovichCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Munday, OliverCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Santen, Karina vanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Epigraph
Spring come to you at the farthest,
In the very end of harvest!
William Shakespeare
At current rates of soil erosion, Britain has just
100 harvests left.
Guardian, 20 July 2016
Green as the grass we lay in corn, in sunlight
Ossie Clark
If I am destined to be happy with you here –
how short is the longest Life.
John Keats
Gently disintegrate me
WS Graham
Dedication
For Gilli Bush-Bailey
see you next week

and for Sarah Margaret
Hardy perennial Wood
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It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times. Again.
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"From the Man Booker-shortlisted and Baileys Prize-winning author of How to be both: a breathtakingly inventive new novel--about aging, time, love, and stories themselves--that launches an extraordinary quartet of books called Seasonal. Readers love Ali Smith's novels for their peerless innovation and their joyful celebration of language and life. Her newest, Autumn, has all of these qualities in spades, and--good news for fans!--is the first installment in a quartet. Seasonal, comprised of four stand-alone books, separate yet interconnected and cyclical (as are the seasons), explores what time is, how we experience it, and the recurring markers in the shapes our lives take and in our ways with narrative. Fusing Keatsian mists and mellow fruitfulness with the vitality, the immediacy, and the color hit of Pop Art, Autumn is a witty excavation of the present by the past. The novel is a stripped-branches take on popular culture and a meditation, in a world growing ever more bordered and exclusive, on what richness and worth are, what harvest means"--

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Book description
Daniel Gluck, a 101-year-old former songwriter, lies asleep and dreaming in his care home. He is regularly visited by 32-year-old Elisabeth Demand, who had been his next door neighbour as a young child. Her mother had disapproved of their early friendship, based on her belief that Daniel was gay, but Elisabeth had nevertheless formed a close bond with him and been inspired by his descriptions of works of art. As a consequence of his influence on her, Elisabeth is now a junior arts lecturer at a London university. A major character in the novel is the long-dead '60s pop artist, Pauline Boty,[6] the subject of Elisabeth's graduate school thesis. The story largely alternates between Daniel's prolonged dreams as he edges closer to death, and Elisabeth's recollections of the origins of their friendship and its repercussions.
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