Warning: gushing will ensue. Please proceed with caution.
Well, it was no great surprise that Ali Smith’s Autumn is incredible. I had originally asked my boyfriend to buy me a copy as my Christmas gift, and whilst he was happy to do so, I simply could not pass up the opportunity of reading a galley. I am far too impatient when a new Ali Smith is released; she is my favourite living author, as I’m sure everyone knows by now, and meeting her whilst studying at King’s College London is the only time in my life that I have felt starstruck.
Autumn is the first of four books in a seasonal sequence, and in my mind, it is the best choice to begin such a series with. I adore all of the seasons, but autumn is a real joy; there is so much beauty around. The novel has also been billed as a serious post-Brexit novel. Brexit – that horrible word that my laptop is intent upon changing to the more kindly ‘Brett’ – is a decision which I still cannot believe has occurred; I find myself saddened by my fellow man, that such a wonderful and secure alliance could be severed so easily. I have a feeling that these are Smith’s feelings too; the inference here, particularly when one takes the character of Elisabeth’s mother into account, are that Britain has made a mistake of great enormity, which will affect everyone in horrid ways. Of the novel, in fact, she stated the following in a recent interview: ‘It’s a pivotal moment… a question of what happens culturally when something is built on a lie’.
As anyone who has read her work before will know, Smith is incredibly sharp, and she has created, once again, a fantastic range of characters to people her latest novel. The conversational patterns which strike up between them feel both unusual and realistic. As always, Smith says a wealth of incredibly important things – about society, and humankind, and decision making, and friendship, and love. She writes of the young and the old, the past and the future.
Smith’s prose, as always, is both stunning, and often profound: ‘It is a privilege, to watch someone sleep, Elisabeth tells herself. It is a privilege to be able to witness someone both here and not here. To be included in someone’s absence, it is an honour, and it asks quiet. It asks respect’. I could happily quote extensively here to further prove my point, so I shall. ‘Time travel is real, Daniel said. We do it all the time. Moment to moment, minute to minute’. The prose about Daniel’s younger sister was particularly compelling:
‘She dances round the room shouting the word he can hardly say himself in her presence.
She is mad.
But she is uncannily right about that story.
She is brilliant.
She is a whole new level of the world true.
She is dangerous and shining.’
Unlike the Brexit result, Autumn is perfect. The material is incredibly well handled, and it is certainly one of her very best books to date; perhaps the very best, in fact. I keep thinking that she can never get any better with each new release, and lo and behold, she does. The novel’s wordplay is exhilarating. Autumn is a triumph; compulsive and compelling, timely and timeless. It is a wonderful, wondrous book. When I reached the all to brief end, I was tempted to go right back to the beginning and read it all over again.