Autumn, Ali Smith
Updated: May 25
This book is the first of Ali Smith’s series ‘Seasonal’.
When you start this book, leave every expectation you have of what a story should be, at the door. Make your mind empty and read.
This book felt like stepping in a stream of consciousness from the author and, simultaneously, of an experience of time in the form of a novel that was new to me. The word used for this series ‘Seasonal’ is for me about more than the literal seasons, it represents the way we experience time itself in our lives.
Are you still there? You did not click away due to the vague description? Fabulous! There follows more vagueness. It is a vague book. (And incidentally, due to that fact, I love it. I have been described as a vague person; this book speaks a language I like.)
Because you see, writing anything about this book will not do it justice. It is beautifully written, words and sentences that profoundly made me stop and reread, reread, … It is a strange book. It reflects its time, post-Brexit United Kingdom. Or non-United Kingdom. And yet, it jumps back to multiple different timelines. It does not make any sense. In its non-sense it is still beautiful. It still speaks a language I understand, and then I do not. That is okay. It is all over the place and then lands you back somewhere you did not expect to be. It feels like poetry. It feels like a piece of classical music.
Now, to be slightly more concrete in my info:
The book starts with a dream, a comatose dream, of Daniel Gluck. Daniel Gluck, who is at that point a century old and finds himself in a care home. At his side sits Elizabeth Demand, 32 years old, not his granddaughter even though the nurses and staff have this idea. No, she is one of his best friends. He was her neighbour when she grew up. At first, she pretended to have a twin sister. She did not and he knew. They became friends, (not is the weirdo/Ew-old-man-and-young-girl-sense), lifelong friends:
“... Very pleased to meet you both. Finally.
How do you mean, finally? Elisabeth said. We only moved here six weeks ago.
The lifelong friends, he said. We sometimes wait a lifetime for them.
He held is hand out. She got up, crossed the distance and held her own hand out. He shook her hand.
See you later, unexpected queen of the world.
Not forgetting the people, he said.”
Throughout the book you get flashbacks to their conversations in the past. They talk about many aspects of life, philosophise if you will. They discuss stories, he describes artworks to her. As well as flashbacks to the life of Daniel Gluck. Where you meet some of those artworks. You meet Pauline Boty, a pop-art artist. You dive into passages about ‘women in the artworld.’ There are pieces that refer to Christine Keeler and the scandal in 1963. (I, as a Belgian, had to look this one up briefly.) You come back to the present, follow Elizabeth in het day-to-day life. She has very funny, frustrating conversations in the post office, for example.
But where do you find Brexit? I cannot give a precise answer. In the atmosphere? Everywhere and nowhere at the same time?
Daniel Gluck always asks Elisabeth the following:
“What you reading? Always be reading something, he said. Even when we’re not physically reading. How else will we read the world? Think of it as a constant.”
It is an atmosphere captured in writing.
It should be clear from what I have written above that this book does not possess a clear storyline. I do not care, I love it.