- Series: Seasonal Quartet
- Paperback: 288 pages
- Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (October 17, 2017)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1101969946
- ISBN-13: 978-1101969946
- Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.8 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 151 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #35,091 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Autumn: A Novel (Seasonal Quartet) Paperback – October 17, 2017
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“Beautiful, subtle. . . . Brimming with humanity and bending, despite everything, toward hope.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Shimmers with wit, melancholy, grief, joy, wisdom, small acts of love and, always, wonder at the seasons.” —The Boston Globe
“Ali Smith has a beautiful mind. [Autumn is] unbearably moving in its playful, strange, soulful assessment of what it means to be alive at a somber time.” —The New York Times
“Bliss from beginning to end. . . . However stormy the events and themes of Smith’s work, their presiding spirit is sunny, witty, and expansive.” —Laura Miller, Slate
“A wonder of deep and accommodating compassion.” —The Washington Post
“Gorgeously constructed. . . . Smith has a kind of irrepressible sense of joy.” —The Atlantic
“Knits together an astonishing array of seemingly disparate subjects. . . . Free spirits and the lifeforce of art—along with kindness, hope, and a readiness ‘to be above and beyond the foul even when we’re up to our eyes in it’—are, when you get down to it, what Smith champions in this stirring novel.” —NPR
“[A] masterwork on the post-Brexit world. . . . Impressionistic and deeply personal.” —New York
“Smith’s novel plays an intimate melody against a broader dissonance, probing the friendship between an art historian and an aging songwriter as they grapple with personal predicaments and a perilous world.” —O, The Oprah Magazine
“Delights in puns and lyric reveries. For a book about decline and disintegration, Autumn remains irrepressibly hopeful about life, something ‘you worked to catch, the intense happiness of an object slightly set apart from you.’” —The Wall Street Journal
“Autumn is a beautiful, poignant symphony of memories, dreams and transient realities; the ‘endless sad fragility’ of mortal lives.” —The Guardian (London)
“If Ali Smith’s four quartets in, and about, time do not endure to rank among the most original, consoling and inspiring of artistic responses to “this mad and bitter mess” of the present, then we will have plunged into an even bleaker midwinter than people often fear.” – Financial Times
“In Britain, Smith has won the Whitbread, the Goldsmiths, and the Costa prizes, and has been shortlisted for the Man Booker three times. American readers ought to be better acquainted with her genius. . . . This ambitious four-novel sequence will end with summer and Smith in her element. If we are all very lucky, perhaps the world will catch up with her there, too.” —Slate
“Smith’s voice, so wise and joyful, is the perfect antidote to troubled times: raw and bitter in the face of injustice, yet always alive to hope, however slight – like the buddleia that blossomed in the wreckage of cities after the Second World War, calmly continuing its own natural cycle oblivious to human destruction.” – New Statesman
“Smith regales us with endless wordplay. . . . Autumn is the first installment of Smith's ‘Seasonal’ quartet. If this brilliantly inventive and ruminative book is representative of what is to come, then we should welcome Smith's winter chill whatever the season.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
“I find reason for excitement when Ali Smith, with thirteen titles to her credit and numerous awards and honors, brings out a new work. . . . A cycle is unfolding: winter seems to lie ahead. . . . But in inverse proportion to defeat is the great pleasure of the reading. Smith’s prose is seductively simple, beguiling, its effects hard-won.” —Edward T. Wheeler, Commonweal
“Smith is brilliant on what the referendum has done to Britain. . . . I can think of few writers—Virginia Woolf is one, James Salter another—so able to propel a narrative through voice alone. . . . This is a novel that works by accretion, appearing light and playful, surface-dwelling, while all the time enacting profound changes on the reader’s heart.” —Alex Preston, Financial Times
“Hums with life. . . . [Smith] is indeed a writer in her prime. Autumn is clever and invigorating. The promise of three more books to come is something to be savored.” —The Washington Times
“It is undoubtedly Smith at her best. . . . This book sets Smith’s complex creative character in stone: puckish yet elegant, angry but comforting. Long may she Remain that way.” —The Times (London)
“Already acknowledged as one of the most inventive novelists writing in Britain today, with her new novel, Autumn, Ali Smith also proves herself to be one of the country’s foremost chroniclers, her finger firmly on the social and political pulse.” —The Independent (London)
“Proving Smith’s ambition and scope, Autumn is the first in a four-part series (the other titles will be Spring, Winter and Summer). . . . If the first instalment is anything to go by, the series is destined to become a canon classic. . . . That Smith has done so with such impressive sleight of hand, and with such expediency, is incredible.” —The Irish Independent
“An ambitious, multi-layered creation. . . . Smith is convincing as both a 12-year-old girl proud of her new rollerblades and a man living in a care home. . . . The story is rooted in autumn, and Smith writes lyrically about the changing seasons. . . . An energising and uplifting story.” —Evening Standard
“Smith writes in a liltingly singsong prose that fizzes with exuberant punning and wordplay. . . . Compellingly contemporary. . . . [An] appeal to conscience and common humanity—intergenerational, interracial, international—in these deeply worrying times.” —The Irish Times
“Uplifting. . . . A beautiful meditation. . . . Given this is the first of a quintet of season-based novels that explore time, Winter can’t come soon enough. Smith is at the very peak of her powers.” —The National (Arts & Life)
“[A] vision of post-Brexit England. . . . Ekphrasis permeates the novel Autumn, which itself seeks to capture in words the fading, abstract beauty of that ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,’ as Romantic poet John Keats wrote in his ode To Autumn. . . . [Smith’s] novel is marked with quiet, brave notes of hope.” —The Straits Times
“In bringing together the present and the seasons, Smith brings to contemporary politics the timeless injunction of art: to stop and look. . . . Autumn shows that the contemporary novel can be both timeless and timely. This may simply be what good novels always have done, but Smith reminds us how to do it, even now.” —Public Books
“An elegiac musing on transience and time. . . . [Smith] leaves readers with a symbol of hope.” —The Culture Trip
“Offers a piercing view of an unsettled England in the aftermath of the 2016 Brexit vote. . . . Much of this novel’s pleasure flows from Smith’s supple prose. She indulges in word play with an almost Joycean zest.” —BookPage
“Stunning. . . . A triumphant story of a May-December friendship within a divided Britain.” —Shelf Awareness
“[A] splendid free-form novel—the first in a seasonally themed tetralogy. . . . Eschewing traditional structure and punctuation, the novel charts a wild course through uncertain terrain, an approach that excites and surprises in equal turn. . . . Smith, always one to take risks, sees all of them pay off yet again.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“At the heart of Man Booker Prize nominee Smith’s new novel is the charming friendship between a lonely girl and a kind older man who offers her a world of culture. This novel of big ideas and small pleasures is enthusiastically recommended.” —Library Journal (starred review)
“A girl's friendship with an older neighbor stands at the center of this multifaceted meditation on aging, art, love, and affection. . . . Smith has a gift for drawing a reader into whatever world she creates. . . . [Autumn is] compelling in its emotional and historical freight, its humor, and keen sense of creativity and loss.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred)
About the Author
Ali Smith is the author of many works of fiction, including the novel Hotel World, which was short-listed for both the Orange Prize and the Man Booker Prize and won the Encore Award and the Scottish Arts Council Book of the Year Award, and The Accidental, which won the Whitbread Award and was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize and the Orange Prize for Fiction. Her most recent novel, How to be both, was a Man Booker Prize finalist and winner of the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, the Goldsmiths Prize, the Costa Novel Award, and the Saltire Society Scottish Fiction Book of the Year Award. Born in Inverness, Scotland, Smith lives in Cambridge, England.
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The novel concerns the relationship between Elisabeth and Daniel Gluck. Elisabeth, who has a tenuous relationship with her mother, meets her neighbor, Daniel Gluck, when she is eight years old and he is already in his 80s. Daniel plays an important role in Elisabeth's life, inspiring her to become an art historian. From the beginning, Elisabeth, who seems to exhibit more maturity than her own mother, enjoys conversations with Daniel that are fully articulate, spirited, imaginative and witty. The novel see-saws back and forth between past and present and Elisabeth has not seen Daniel for ten years when she learns that he is dying and she returns to sit by his deathbed.
The unusual style of the novel is evident from the very first page when the reader is told that "an old man washes up on a shore. . . The sea's been rough. It has taken the shirt off his back; . . .What's that in his mouth, grit? it's sand, it's under his tongue, he can feel it, he can hear it grinding when his teeth move against each other, singing its sand-song." The dead body is awakened in the form of his younger self but he is naked and he slips into a copse of trees where he magically sews leaves together to clothe himself. He recalls a postcard he purchased in Paris in the 1980s of a little girl in a park The reader is told: "She looked like she was dressed In dead leaves black and white photo dated not long after the war ended . . . Something about the child plus the dead leaves, terrible anomaly, a bit like she was wearing rags. Then again, rags weren't rags. . . . But then again again, a picture taken not long after, in a time when a child just playing in leaves could look, for the first time to the casual eye, like a rounded-up and offed child (it hurst to think of it) . . . or maybe also a nuclear-after child, the leaves hanging off her looked like skin become rags, . . .":This continues, in this vein for 11 full pages. I mention this because if the reader is not comfortable with this very nontraditional style of expression, then this is definitely not the novel for you.
The reference to trees continues throughout the novel. As Daniel remains in a comatose state, the reader is told that, "He seems to be shut inside something remarkably like the trunk of a Scot's pine. . . . There are worst tastes to have in a mouth though, truth be told, and the trunks of Scots pines do tend to be narrow. Straight and tall, because this is the kind of tree good for telegraph poles, for the props that it builders used. . . . Daniel in the bed, inside the tree, isn't panicking. . . ."
By the end of the novel, I am ashamed to admit that I started tiring of the stream-of-consciousness writing and I found myself skipping whole pages just to get to the end. In some ways, I felt like I often do when I am in front of a world-famous modern art painting and I am struggling to understand what it is, exactly, that I am supposed to be loving about this painting. I wanted to love this novel, but I tired of the word play and I tired of seemingly disconnected thoughts that would seem to continue endlessly page after page after page.
I can not wholeheartedly and authentically tell you to rush out to read this novel. I read it in one sitting because I wanted to get to the end of it and be done with it. I do not say that with any kind of pride because I am left with the nagging feeling that I must have missed something or maybe I should have been more patient to fully appreciate the nontraditional style of the novel.
If you are a very patient reader and if you love poetry and if you revel in reading texts that follow a very nontraditional form, then you may fully appreciate this novel.
The central story revolves around a friendship between an old man and a young girl who are neighbours. Their relationship is lovely and intellectual and deep and I was very moved by it. But all the other stories that are tied with this narrative, about a long forgotten British pop painter, about Brexit, about bureaucracy, about mother-daughter relationships, about a failing economy, they felt extraneous, uncompelling.
For example, even if the main characters seemed sympathetic to the racist and xenophobic atmosphere fanned by Brexit, the incidents and instances are left general and thus without the force that comes with particularity, from reading about a particular incident happening to a particular person. This distanced perspective comes off privileged, because it seems as if only the native born, the whites, are the ones who can feel pity or sympathy for the others, are the ones at the center of the story, are ones we get to read about.
I was also put off by the egregious punniness and proud-of-itself language. For example:
“…he’s nothing but a torn leaf scrap on the surface of a running brook, green veins and leaf-stuff, water and current, Daniel Gluck taking leaf of his senses at last, his tongue a broad green leaf, leaves growing through the sockets of his eyes, leaves thrustling (very good word for it) out of his ears, leaves tenderizing down through the caves of his nostrils and out and round til he’s swathed in foliage, leafskin, relief.”
I expected better, more beautiful, from the author of Girl Meets Boy whose lines I still quote years after reading it.
Still, Autumn isn’t difficult to read, and its main characters are charming and thoughtful. But I’m not likely to pick up the rest of the seasons when they come.
The book is told from two perspectives- Elisabeth, who is the main narrator with most of the story following her life. Daniel, who is a century year old and dying. His narrative is told from within his dreams as he lies within a nursing home. It is the story of both of these friends and their lives together and apart. Elisabeth struggles with love as she loves Daniel, without it being an eros type love, so she struggles with people who don't care for her the way Daniel does.
The story is told within a back and forth nature dropping the reader within the moment without letting the reader know the narrator, nor what time period it is. This is a little off-putting at first, but once you get into the groove, it just flows.
The writing is the main draw of the story too. It is as if it were poetic, freeform, and flow of consciousness. Ideas that start within one chapter appear in another chapter. A passport picture follows Elisabeth throughout the book and adds a bit of comedy throughout the book.
The book's background within the present portions follow the Brexit vote. Half of one town hates the other and things have become complicated. Elisabeth struggles with this as well.
When I finished the book, I could absolutely see why this was nominated. This is a beautiful book and contemporary, yet dealing with issues that flow through time. I am wondering if it has a chance of winning, but don't pass on this one.
I gave this one 4.5 stars.