Book Review 6 – Autumn by Ali Smith

Hello wonderful readers of my blog and welcome to the first post on my brand new, shiny, very own website 52goodbooks.com. I am beyond excited to be here. It’s like going from renting to buying your first house ? As with any move, there are still boxes to unpack and pictures to put up. Maybe this table goes best against the wall, on the other hand, maybe it is better under the window… Hopefully things will bed in over the next week or so, but I must say this feels like home.

How have you been getting on this week? Enjoying the turn of the weather?

Brisk mornings with clear skies that give way to warm sun kissed afternoons. And those leaves on the trees that morph from green to shades of gold, orange and red. Time to wrap a scarf around you and crunch your way through the October leaves on a walk with your dog / child / great-aunt.

It has felt most apt to be reading a book called ‘Autumn’ at this time. Although, I am embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t heard of Ali Smith before I read this book. It was only once I turned up at Croydon library and found myself wading through a foot of Ali Smith books in the search for this one, that it hit me – hang on just a cotton picking minute, this Ali Smith is a bit of a heavy-weight author! Mind you, I should have already guessed that. Autumn has been shortlisted for the Man Booker prize, and is the first of four books. The next in the series, titled ‘Winter’ is out now, and the other two ‘Spring’ and (you can see where she’s going with this) ‘Summer’ are yet to be published.

In Autumn, we meet Elisabeth who regularly visits an old neighbour in his care home while he sleeps away the final ebb of his life. Elisabeth has a fondness for the old man Daniel, who was a friend and babysitter to her as a child. The story reaches back into her memories of that time as well as touching on Daniel’s own memories from before he met Elisabeth.

Yes – I really did put this library book into a pile of leaves…

Autumn is a clever little book and it turns out that Smith is much more than just a teller of stories. In this one book she does so much. There are current and historical strands running through the books. Facts meld into fiction and fiction back into fact. There are references to Brexit and events from the life of the model Christine Keeler, who was at the centre of a political scandal in 1963 and Pauline Boty, a founder of the British Pop art movement. And on top of this merging of realities, Smith writes fragments of poetry into the book and juxtaposes this with the domesticity of ordinary life. I giggled as I read her account of Elisabeth trying to get her passport picture accepted through the Post Office, check and send service. It was, as you can imagine, a painful experience!

I found Autumn a slow burner though and have fallen more in love with it after I finished reading and doing a bit of research on Keeler and Boty, which then led me back into re-reading sections of the book. When I look back on it as a whole, the reality, the fiction, the poetry, the prose, the ordinary life, the story; I am pretty blown away by what Smith has managed to produce. We’ll have to wait till 17th October to find out if Smith will win the Booker. She’s up against some debut authors, as well as some old timers like Mohsin Hamid, who’s book Exit West I have already reviewed. I can only compare Autumn to Exit West and out of the two my money would be on Autumn and its clever fusion of concepts. Anyone want to take my bet?!

Next week I will be looking at the last of the titles that I have picked from the  Booker. Colson Whitehead’s highly acclaimed, ‘The Underground Railroad’ was longlisted and has come up in many a recommendation as an unput-down-able experience. I’m looking forward to getting my teeth into this one. For now, I’ll leave you to enjoy the rest of your own autumn…

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