"Autumn is about a long platonic friendship between an elderly man and a much younger woman. His name is Daniel. He's 101. . . . Her name is Elisabeth. She's a 32-year-old fitfully employed art lecturer at an unnamed university in London. She comes to read to, and be with, him. . . . There's a bit of a Harold and Maude thing going on here. . . . As Elisabeth and Daniel talk, and as Elisabeth processes the events of her life, a world opens. Autumn begins to be about 100 things in addition to friendship. It's about poverty and bureaucracy and sex and morality and music. It includes a long and potent detour into the tragic life and powerful painting of the British Pop artist Pauline Boty (1938-66), whose work, Smith makes plain, should be better known. . . . This is the place to come out and say it: Ali Smith has a beautiful mind. I found this book to be unbearably moving in its playful, strange, soulful assessment of what it means to be alive at a somber time. . . . Smith is Scottish, and she's written plays and journalism in addition to many novels and books of stories. I've not read all of them, though I will. I have no early quibble with the novelist Sebastian Barry's comment that she may be 'Scotland's Nobel laureate-in-waiting.' Autumn has a loose structure, almost like that of a prose poem. This form is perfect for Smith, because her mind will go where it wants to go. And where her mind goes, you want to follow. . . . I suspect that this shrewd and dreamy, serious-but-not-solemn novel will be an uncommonly good audiobook, for people who are into that sort of thing. Spring can really hang you up the most, but for now I am struck by, and stuck on, Autumn."
--Dwight Garner, The New York Times
"[Elisabeth and Daniel] are each other's favorite people in the world, even though their paths cross only intermittently and he is 69 years old than she is. . . . Their extraordinary friendship forms the moral center of this beautiful, subtle work, the seventh novel by Smith, who consistently produces some of Britain's most exciting, ambitious and moving writing. . . . Smith teases out big ideas so slyly and lightly that you can miss how artfully she goes about it. . . . Smith's writing is fearless and nonlinear, exploring the connectivity of things: between the living and the dead, the past and the present, art and life. She conveys time almost as it if is happening all at once, like Picasso trying to record an image from every angle simultaneously. . . . Smith's writing is light and playful, deceptively simple, skipping along like a stone on the surface of a lake, brimming with humanity and bending, despite everything, toward hope. . . . 'Whoever makes up the story makes up the world, ' Daniel says at one point, 'so always try to welcome people into the home of your story.' That's what Smith does, all the time, tries to welcome people in. The best parts in Autumn
, the most moving parts, the transcendent parts, come during Elisabeth and Daniel's conversations about words, art, life, books, the imagination, how to observe, how to be. Theirs is a conversation that begins mid-paragraph and never ends."
--Sarah Lyall, The New York Times Book Review
"'All across the country, people felt it was the wrong thing. All across the country, people felt it was the right thing. All across the country, people felt they'd really lost. All across the country, people felt they'd really won.' That might sound like present-second America, but it's actually Scottish novelist Ali Smith--with a leg up from Dickens--describing post-Brexit Britain in Autumn
, the first of a planned quartet of season-based novels. Smith is well known for taking an elastic approach to words. Here, she extends that courtesy to time itself. . . . Layered, resonant, and wittily clever, Autumn
confirms that Smith is a novelist for our time--'time' meaning at least the next four years."
--Emily Donaldson, The Toronto Star
"With customary intrepidness, the celebrated Scottish author of several previous books of fiction raises questions about aging, the elasticity of friendship, aesthetic politics, and the meaning of fame. . . . Like any successful novel of ideas, Autumn
doesn't end; it reverberates in one's bones, recalling Eugenio Montale's argument in The Second Life of Art
, that the power of a book, painting, dance, or any art form is not a culminating catharsis but a recurring echo. Thus Smith's autumnal leaves cling to trees as the questions and quandaries linger. . . . Autumn
shimmers with wit, melancholy, grief, joy, wisdom, small acts of love and, always, wonder at the seasons."
--Valerie Miner, The Boston Globe
"If authors can be seasonal, then Scottish writer Ali Smith is, to my mind, a summer novelist. Her fiction, even when it depicts upsetting events, has an Arcadian atmosphere reminiscent of As You Like It,
as if her characters were wandering through a green glade on a sunny day. . . . Psychological complexity is not a hallmark of Smith's work, but its buoyancy and charm more than make up for that. In Britain, Smith has won the Whitbread, the Goldsmiths, and the Costa prizes, and has been shortlisted for the Man Booker three times. American readers ought to be better acquainted with her genius. . . . Smith knows how to tease the glory out of the most plainspoken English. . . . Smith's literary spirit is essentially playful, and in Autumn
it finds its counterpart in a little-known (but real) painter of the Pop Art period, Pauline Boty. . . . Boty was beautiful and fearless, a free spirit who dabbling in acting and, as Elisabeth sees it, had the rare ability to represent female pleasure and joy on canvas. . . . You can see why Smith thinks of the painter as a kindred spirit. . . . Autumn's
most daring formal move is to attempt the immediacy of journalism, depicting the national mood while the nation is still feeling it. . . . 'That's the thing about things, ' reads the novel's second sentence. 'They fall apart, always have, always will, it's in their nature.' But Autumn
hopes to remind us that's as true of the bad things as it is of the good. . . . At first Smith's choice to start with autumn seemed out of character, but of course that means that this ambitious four-novel sequence will end with summer and Smith in her element. If we are all very lucky, perhaps the world will catch up with her there, too."
--Laura Miller, Slate
"The stunning Autumn
is the first of a projected quartet of seasonal novels by Scottish author Ali Smith. . . . Set in the factional, jingoistic post-Brexit United Kingdom--where 'what had happened whipped about itself as if a live electric wire had snapped off a pylon in a storm'--Autumn
is a compact story of the unlikely friendship of two neighbors: Daniel, an iconoclastic old man with a house full of art, books and music, and Elisabeth, an impressionable, lonely young woman, 70 years his junior. . . . If fall is the twilight of the year, what will Smith's long cold winter bring--and better yet, her spring and summer? . . . A triumphant story of a May-December friendship within a divided Britain."
--Bruce Jacobs, Shelf Awareness
"What kind of art will come out of this moment? If Ali Smith's Autumn
is a harbinger of things to come, the work that emerges over the next decade will be extraordinarily rich. The novel, the first book in a quartet inspired by the seasons, considers post-Brexit Britain at the tail end of last summer, experienced through the perspective of a 32-year-old art history lecturer named Elisabeth. But its ambition and craft allude to--and cite--great works of literature, from Brave New World
to The Tempest
. Through Smith's dazzling, whimsical feats of imagination, a news cycle described by Elisabeth as 'Thomas Hardy on speed' becomes the backdrop for a modernist interrogation of history. Autumn
, like Smith's last book, How to Be Both
, is a gorgeously constructed puzzle that challenges the reader to solve it, with a narrative that darts back and forth in time and space. . . . As the novel proceeds, she layers together fragments of books and paintings and song lyrics in an act of literary decoupage, as if to mimic the fragile patchwork of national identity. . . . The work Autumn
seems most indebted to is T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets
, poems that are also structured loosely around the seasons, and in which nature has a symbolic power. Eliot, like Smith, considers time as a flexible entity, with memory a guiding force that allows people to find divine meaning in the universe. And Four Quartets
, like Autumn
, was written amid great national turmoil, during World War Two. But Smith has a kind of irrepressible sense of joy that peeks out through the darkness. . . . Smith, in reckoning with the catastrophe and wreckage of a fraught historical moment, picks through it just as precisely to reveal the beauty and the humanity buried deep below the surface."
--Sophie Gilbert, The Atlantic
"The first of a projected quartet, Autumn
hovers around the season of harvest and final things, but the possibility of transformation is also very much in the air. . . . A novel that, under all its erudition, narrative antics, wit and wordplay, is a wonder of deep and accommodating compassion."
--Ellen Akins, The Washington Post
"Smith's novel plays an intimate melody against a broader dissonance, probing the friendship between an art historian and an aging songwriter as they grapple with personal predicaments and a perilous world."
--O, The Oprah Magazine
"Could Scottish writer Ali Smith be J.D. Salinger's natural heir? It's not as preposterous as it sounds. Not since Salinger's plucky English orphan, Esme, soothed an American sergeant's no-longer-intact faculties at the end of World War II has a writer so artfully and heartrendingly captured the two-way lifeline between preternaturally wise children (mainly girls) and young-at-heart gentle souls (mainly men) who forge special friendships that have nothing predatory or Lolita-ish about them. . . . Autumn
again knits together an astonishing array of seemingly disparate subjects, including mortality, unconventional love, Shakespeare's Tempest
, a rhyming advertisement jingle, and the xenophobia underlying both Nazism and current populist neo-nationalism. . . . Smith is better at making tight connections than most airlines. . . . Free spirits and the lifeforce of art--along with kindness, hope, and a readiness 'to be above and beyond the foul even when we're up to our eyes in it'--are, when you get down to it, what Smith champions in this stirring novel."
--Heller McAlpin, NPR
"Delights in puns and lyric reveries. For a book about decline and disintegration, Autumn
remains irrepressibly hopeful about life, something 'you worked to catch, the intense happiness of an object slightly set apart from you.'"
--Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal
"I find reason for excitement when Ali Smith, with thirteen titles to her credit and numerous awards and honors, brings out a new work. A Scot now residing in London, she doesn't write 'state of Britain' novels. She is too subtle for that, but her work is clearly responsive to social and political issues. 'The first post-Brexit novel, ' some critics have called her latest work, Autumn
. Indeed, the fact of the referendum, the emotions it raised, and the sense of ending--or beginning--that accompanied the vote run at times as a litany, lists of hopes or complaints, in a recitation of divisive uncertainty. What is certain is, as the title asserts, that a cycle is unfolding: winter seems to lie ahead. But the novel has aspects that subvert that fear. . . . The surprises abound in the novel, but the mood is balanced, reflective, mature. The prose styles vary, structure reflecting the hectic turns of public feeling, the abrupt shifts in time and mood. . . . But in inverse proportion to defeat is the great pleasure of the reading. Smith's prose is seductively simple, beguiling, its effects hard-won."
--Edward T. Wheeler, Commonweal
"[Smith's] risk-taking, convention-defying fiction resembles a dizzying high-wire act performed above stiffer competition. Autumn
is another breathless feat. . . . It engages acutely and beautifully with topical concerns and perennial issues. . . . Smith muses on art, literature and memory, plus the transience of life and the horror of Brexit. Some of her meditations are imbued with autumnal tones and textures (melancholy, regret, nostalgia); others are flecked with wit. As ever, Smith regales us with endless wordplay. . . . Smith's most substantial components speak volumes with poetic intensity and lucidity about an enduring companionship, a fractured Great Britain, the tragedy of aging and the cyclical nature of time. . . . Autumn
is the first installment of Smith's 'Seasonal' quartet. If this brilliantly inventive and ruminative book is representative of what is to come, then we should welcome Smith's winter chill whatever the season."
--Malcolm Forbes, Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Hums with life. . . . [Smith] is indeed a writer in her prime. Autumn
is clever and invigorating. The promise of three more books to come is something to be savored."
--Claire Hopley, The Washington Times
"In her new novel, the always intriguing Ali Smith portrays an odd friendship between a centenarian and the neighbor girl--now a young woman--he cared for in her childhood. Smith blends conventional realist narrative with passages that read almost like prose poems to create an elegiac story that's decidedly more than the sum of its parts. . . . [Autumn
] offers a piercing view of an unsettled England in the aftermath of the 2016 Brexit vote. . . . Much of this novel's pleasure flows from Smith's supple prose. She indulges in word play with an almost Joycean zest."
--Harvey Freedenberg, BookPage
"[A] vision of post-Brexit England. . . . Ekphrasis permeates the novel Autumn
, which itself seeks to capture in words the fading, abstract beauty of that 'season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, ' as Romantic poet John Keats wrote in his ode To Autumn. . . . [Smith's] novel is marked with quiet, brave notes of hope."
--Olivia Ho, The Straits Times
"Smith dances across dreamscape, memory, and reality in a novel by turns funny, touching, and fascinating--in terms of character and of history. The rare friendship of an old man and a young girl whose father has vanished (and whose mother disappears more than occasionally) becomes a vessel for salvation as her life is newly graced with love and with meaning. Old he may be but as she grows toward adulthood, her life infinitely enriched by the years spent with her highly cultured friend, his journey takes him back to the ghosts of his past, forward toward the darkening reality of the present world and of the world beyond. Trumpworld in America has nothing on the unpleasant present in England but Smith's light touch, transcendent imagination and never-cloying compassion transport us beyond the threat of evil and of ol...
From the Back Cover
Daniel is a century old. Elisabeth, born in 1984, has her eye on the future. The United Kingdom is in pieces, divided by a historic once-in-a-generation summer.
Love is won, love is lost. Hope is hand in hand with hopelessness. The seasons roll round, as ever . . .
'A beautiful, poignant symphony of memories, dreams and transient realities' Guardian
'Bravura, brilliant and unsettling . . . leaving you marvelling' Financial Times
'A terrific writer. There is an awful lot to lift the soul, not least Smith's extraordinary playful use of language' Daily Mail
'Undoubtedly Smith at her best. Puckish, yet elegant; angry, but comforting' The Times
'Bold and brilliant' Observer
'Smith straddles the elegiac and the celebratory through this glorious novel' Scotsman
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