Autumn by Ali Smith

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Autumn by Ali Smith

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Rachael Spencer
Reviewed by Rachael Spencer
Summary: Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction winner Ali Smith's first post-Brexit novel is a beautiful exploration of time, memory and the fleetingness of life as told through the story of two characters' long term friendship. A wonderful example of painting a picture with words, I can't praise it highly enough.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 272 Date: August 2017
Publisher: Penguin
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0241973318

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Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2017

The first part in Ali Smith's four part 'Seasonal' series, Autumn is the story of Daniel Gluck and Elisabeth Demand, unexpected friends who used to be neighbours when Elisabeth was a little girl. In a series of memories and dreams, we discover their friendship from Daniel babysitting Elisabeth through to her visits with him now that he is in a home and drawing towards the end of his extremely long and fascinating life. Along the way, we get a wonderfully written insight into time, memories, and the fleeting nature of life itself.

When I picked up Autumn, I only had a small idea of what to expect. I'd read the blurb, of course, and had read other novels by the same author, but as with a lot of the most exciting authors, that didn't mean I knew what I was about to read.

Stylistically, this is such a beautiful novel. It explores time and memories, and the way it's written conveys this wonderfully well even before you get into the meat of what's being said. Reading felt more like looking at a tapestry than sitting and reading a novel. All the fragments of the two main characters life came together to form an overall picture which was so rich that you as a reader can picture it all perfectly in your mind.

There are moments in this story where Daniel makes Elisabeth close her eyes so that he can describe pieces of art to her, and the pictures he weaves with his words are so captivating that I found I was disappointed I couldn't close my eyes to imagine it too (always a hindrance when reading a book, closing your eyes…) because I felt so in the moment with Daniel and Elisabeth. I feel like these moments almost reflect the act of reading this whole book. It's more like the story is washing over you than you're putting effort into following a narrative, and it makes for a really interesting reading experience.

I'm always amazed by Smith's style and skill. It's not easy to write dialogue freeform without any denoting punctuation, yet not once did I wonder which parts were narration and which parts were dialogue, because the character's voices were all so strong and individual that it seemed completely natural. Add to this all the amazing fragmented moments which helped to build this world, for example the brief chapter directly addressing the fallout from the EU referendum; a piece of prose which could easily be read as a poem, that manages to hit the nail on the head of the feeling in the UK since June 2016. Autumn really is a tour de force in descriptive and emotional prose and I can't recommend it enough. Many thanks for the advance copy of this paperback edition.

If this made you want to read more by the same author, then you could do worse than starting with, How to be Both, which won the Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction in 2015. Also keep checking back, as Smith is due to be releasing Winter, the second in this four part series in the not too distant future. I can't wait.

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