I was really excited to pick up Autumn by Ali Smith, simply for the attractive quartet aspect to her series. I loved the idea of a novel representing each season, starting in my favourite time of year, and leading into the coming seasons. I don’t read many prize-nominated titles but I’m determined to change that, and I began with Autumn.
Firstly, I was surprised by the writing style. I’m not used to such a raw, unjustified, punctuation-free style and I immediately felt my fear of modernist writing flaring as I tried to slip into Daniel’s story. It was hard for me but I was determined to do it, and after a few moments of confusion, I managed to settle in. I was out of my comfort zone and I was enjoying it.
I loved the contrast of personalities and perspectives in this text, the way that Daniel and Elisabeth slipped between one another, experiencing the same time, but on different planes, different levels of consciousness. Elisabeth’s witty voice was perfect through the interrogation of a Brexit-fuelled storyline, her consideration of humanity and circumstance dipping beautifully into the past and present situations of her life.
And alongside that, Daniel’s dreams delved into reality and memory and it was so well executed. I found myself questioning which parts were real and which were manufactured in the subconscious of an elderly man. It was wonderful to read his past and present through the distorted view of his hyperactive and creative mind. The irregularity of his self, the innovative way of storytelling when bonding with Elisabeth, both in memory and dream, were so beautiful.
The contrast of political climate and childhood memories were brilliant and effective, raising questions about the reality we know now, without leaning too heavily on either line of opinion. It left you asking and wanting more of what you already knew. It re-created the air of uncertainty that settled on Britain like a fog back in 2016. I felt myself drawn into my own memories, losing myself in the narrative while thinking about my own feelings, my own opinions and considerations and irritations about the way our society was becoming so distinct and separated.