Autumn by Ali Smith
Twenty pages into Autumn by Ali Smith, there is a chance you might think to yourself ‘I am not smart enough for this book but I also love it.’
No? Just me then?
Autumn by Ali Smith goes where not many books go, in that it mostly refuses to budge from the present. Most lit fic books, or at least the ones I’ve been reading, have one foot in the past, with an omniscience that only time can bring while others look further on, prophesying a future that cannot be immediate. Autumn, on the other hand speaks to different points in personal histories but all from the vantage point of post-Brexit UK.
These personal histories emerge through a spool of memories and rumination from our protagonist Elisabeth Demand and the people she interacts with- The fictional song writer Daniel Gluck who is the butterfly effect leading to Elisabeth’s humanity, her mother emerging in resistance in the later part of her life, flashes of the very real and “scandalous” Christine Keeler through the eyes of Pauline Boty, a British pop art legend.
The reader must attend to these narratives, knowing full well these stories exist in one form of the other.
‘Waiting for the other shoe to drop’ is a good way to describe the atmosphere of Elisabeth’s life as she spends her time in hospital rooms and post office queues. It also describes the UK which is grappling with a decision that has it spiraling into a future it can barely predict, much less prepare for.
“It was the best of times. It was the worst of times”, the book begins, mirroring the Dickensian anaphora for the French revolution.
There’s probably a lot more that went way over my head but I now understand the sheer awe that Ali Smith inspires and I’m thankful to be able to listen to such an important voice, especially in these times.