Autumn: A Novel

by Ali Smith

Paperback, 2017

Call number

FICT SMI

Collection

Genres

Publication

Anchor (2017), Edition: Reprint, 288 pages

Description

"From the Man Booker-shortlisted and Baileys Prize-winning author of How to be both: a breathtakingly inventive new novel--about aging, time, love, and stories themselves--that launches an extraordinary quartet of books called Seasonal. Readers love Ali Smith's novels for their peerless innovation and their joyful celebration of language and life. Her newest, Autumn, has all of these qualities in spades, and--good news for fans!--is the first installment in a quartet. Seasonal, comprised of four stand-alone books, separate yet interconnected and cyclical (as are the seasons), explores what time is, how we experience it, and the recurring markers in the shapes our lives take and in our ways with narrative. Fusing Keatsian mists and mellow fruitfulness with the vitality, the immediacy, and the color hit of Pop Art, Autumn is a witty excavation of the present by the past. The novel is a stripped-branches take on popular culture and a meditation, in a world growing ever more bordered and exclusive, on what richness and worth are, what harvest means"--… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member EBT1002
"There is no point in making up a world, Elisabeth said, when there's already a real world. There's just the world, and there's the truth about the world.

You mean, there's the truth, and there's the made-up version of it that we get told about the world, Daniel said.

No. The world exists. Stories are made up, Elisabeth said.

But no less true for that, Daniel said.

That's ultra-crazy talk, Elisabeth said.

And whoever makes up the story makes up the world, Daniel said. So always try to welcome people into the home of your story. That's my suggestion."

This is an excerpt from a delightful dialogue between Elisabeth and Daniel, a dialogue about the nature of truth and stories and Goldilocks.... well, not so much about Goldilocks but the story of Goldilocks and the three bears plays an important part in Daniel's attempt to challenge young Elisabeth's prosaic conception of the world. I LOVED this novel. Through the friendship of the elderly Daniel and the 13-year-old Elisabeth, Smith explores so many themes: the fragility of democracy, the nature of truth, the passage of time, shared humanity across vast age differences.... Funny, poignant, at times lyrical, it's a novel to relish and savor.
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LibraryThing member Crazymamie
"How we play is: I tell you the first line of a story, Daniel said.
Okay, Elisabeth said.
Then you tell me the story that comes into your head when you hear that first line, Daniel said.
Like, a story that already exists? Elisabeth said. Like Goldilocks and the three bears?
Those poor bears, Daniel said. That bad wicked rude vandal girl. Going into their house unannounced. Breaking their furniture. Eating their supplies. Spraying her name with spraypaint on the walls of their bedrooms.
She does not spray her name on their walls, Elisabeth said. That's not the story.
Who says? Daniel says. Who says the story isn't happening right now?
I do, Elisabeth said.
Well, you're going to lose at Bagatelle, then, Daniel said, because the whole point of Bagatelle is that you trifle with the stories that people think are set in stone. And no, not that kind of trifle-
I know, Elisabeth said. Jeez. Don't demean me.
Demean you? Daniel said Moi? Now. What kind of story do you want to trifle with? You can choose."

This is a gem. It just pulled me into it's pages, and I read it in one day. It goes back and forth in time, revealing our two protagonists, Elisabeth and Daniel, as various stages of their lives. Elisabeth meets Daniel in her childhood when he is a neighbor. Daniel is already old, and the two form a friendship that will help to chart the course of Elisabeth's life.

I liked the nonlinear progression of this book that showed glimpses of memory and also of fact that memory had forgotten. I liked that the author did not feel the need to tidy things up for us or to explain everything. Smith leaves the reader to interpret and follow both Elisabeth and Daniel's stories. She does not sell us short or feel the need to explain every literary reference, and this little book is full of them -
tucked into the dialogue and the corners of the story without seeming gratuitous or gimmicky.

This is the first book in a planned quartet, and I cannot wait for the net installment. Highly recommended. And two more quotes because I cannot resist:

"The word gymkhana, Daniel said, is a wonderful word, a word grown from several languages.
Words don't get grown, Elisabeth said.
They do, Daniel said.
Words aren't plants, Elisabeth said.
Words are themselves organisms, Daniel said.
Oregano-isms, Elisabeth said.
Herbal and verbal, Daniel said. Language is like poppies. It just takes something to churn the earth round them up, and when it does up come the sleeping words, bright red, fresh, blowing about. Then the seedheads rattle, the seeds fall out. Then there's even more language waiting to come up."

"It is like democracy is a bottle someone can threaten to smash and do a bit of damage with. It has become a time of people saying stuff to each other and none of it actually becoming dialogue.
It is the end of dialogue."
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LibraryThing member Eyejaybee
Every now and then I read a book and find myself totally at odds with the prevailing zeitgeist. This book has won prizes and drawn almost universal critical acclaim, and the paperback edition is weighed down with several pages of excerpts from gushing reviews. I, however, found it totally impenetrable, written in a self-congratulatory prose style that left me feeling almost physically sick. I have read civil service HR manuals that I have found less tedious and more intellectually and emotionally refreshing.

I would also question Penguin’s decision to present it without double-justified pages. To my perhaps jaundiced eye, the effect was not one of quirky charm; I merely felt that the typesetting was as slipshod as the writing.
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LibraryThing member SandDune
As usual, after reading an Ali Smith novel I'm left trying to pin down exactly what the book was about, and not quite succeeding, or succeeding only partially. And also as usual, I'm thinking that it would really benefit from a reread, not because the book is very complicated, but because it's just very slightly odd.

So what is the book about? It's the summer of 2016, going into Autumn, after the Brexit vote, and Elisabeth Demand, a lecturer in art history at a university in London, traumatised by the result and the consequent changes she's seeing in society, retreats to her mother's house in the country. Every day she visits a neighbour from her childhood, Daniel Gluck, who at the age of 101 is close to death in a nearby nursing home. Each time she visits he is asleep, (he's entered an 'extended sleep phase' explains the care assistant) but she reads to him anyway from A Tale of Two Cities. The novel alternates between the present day, Elizabeth's childhood (when Daniel, already an old man, was a somewhat unconventional baby sitter, and later friend), and Daniel's own earlier life. Throughout the novel the works of the (real-life) artist Pauline Boty recurr: Daniel was in love with Boty (or is it with her work) in the 1960's and introduces Elisabeth to the almost forgotten artist at an early age.

By bringing these threads together Ali Smith is bringing together periods of upheaval. One of Boty's better known works is a collage based on a photograph of Christine Keeler, the woman at the centre of the Profumo affair of 1963, a scandal which threatened to topple the government of the time, and could be seen as signalling the beginning of the changes in society of the 1960's. 2016 is another year of change, with the result of the referendum which bringing down the Prime Minister, and throwing the country into political turmoil. It isn't hard to guess at Ali Smith's opinion of the Brexit question, (as a writer born in Scotland who ended up in Cambridge it seems virtually certain that she was going to support Remain), and the first lines of the book make that clear 'It was the worst of times. It was the worst of times. Again. That's the thing about things. They fall apart, always have, always will, it's in their nature.'

I love the cover of my hardback, which has a partial dust jacket showing a country track heading into the distance through an autumnal landscape. But on close inspection there's a very fine vertical line across the track which unless you look very closely seems to be a join in the paper: the future is divided from the past.
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LibraryThing member BLBera
[Autumn} is a breathtaking novel. Smith uses the metaphor of the seasons to show that humans have always had an incredible capacity for cruelty, yet there is also love and beauty in the world.

While Brexit is never named, she refers to the vote throughout the novel:
All across the country, the country was divided, a fence here, a wall there, a line drawn here, a line crossed there,
a line you don't cross here,
a line you better not cross there,
a line of beauty here,
a line dance there,
a line you don't even know exists here,
a line you can't afford there,
a whole new line of fire,
line of battle,
end of the line,
here/there.

But the divisions do not just apply to Brexit; we can see Trump and his followers here as well, and Smith also takes us back to WWII.

Yet, there is also love and beauty. Daniel Gluck, who is 101, and Elisabeth Demand, in her 40s, have been friends since Elisabeth was a child. Now, as he lies in a nursing home, asleep, Elisabeth visits him every day and reads to him. As she sits with him, she thinks about the seasons they have spent together, and how he opened her eyes to art; her dissertation was about Pauline Boty, whom she learned about from Daniel.

Daniel, asleep, thinks about his sister who was killed in WWII, and what she wrote him: "Hope is exactly that, that's all it is, a matter of how we deal with the negative acts towards human beings by other human beings in the world, remembering that they and we are all human, that nothing human is alien to us..."

The language is pure poetry as well. Wonderful novel.
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LibraryThing member thorold
A wonderful, modest little novel about the friendship between a young art historian and her mother's centenarian neighbour, which turns out to cover a lot more ground than you would think possible. Glorious writing and a light, allusive style that constantly refuses to tell us the things we ought to be able to work out for ourselves. There's obviously a seasonal thing going on, lots of leaf metaphors, which of course work very well if you happen to read it at this time of year. But there's also a lot about the importance of asserting our humanity through quixotic acts of resistance, especially in a (current British) society where human relations seem to be more and more based on mutual fear and suspicion. Smith explores this idea both through her fictional characters and through the life of the sixties British pop artist and proto-feminist, Pauline Boty (1938-1966). The message seems to be that an act of resistance always has value, even if we know it's doomed to fail, because it embodies our refusal to accept as inevitable the evil and mediocrity that the world imposes on us.… (more)
LibraryThing member RidgewayGirl
Ali Smith's new novel, Autumn, is the first in a planned quartet. It's a quiet novel, about the friendship between a girl and her elderly neighbor and how that friendship sustains itself over the years. It's set just after the Brexit vote, and the novel has a subdued, elegiac feel to it that suits the season that it draws its title from. But this isn't a gloomy book, it's full of Smith's careful observation of details and her beautiful writing.

Hope is exactly that, that's all it is, a matter of how we deal with the negative acts toward human beings by other human beings in the world, remembering that they and we are all human, that nothing human is alien to us, the foul and the fair, and that most important of all we're here for a mere blink of the eyes, that's all. But in that Augenblick there's either a benign wink or a willing blindness, and we have to know we're equally capable of both, and to be ready to be above and beyond the foul even when we're up to our eyes in it.

Autumn moves back and forth in time, between Elisabeth now, staying at her mother's house so she can visit Daniel every day in the hospice, and as she watches neighbors fail to greet one another, and she battles with the postal clerk as she tries to renew her passport, and Elisabeth at eight, meeting and becoming best friends with the elderly man next door, who loves to discuss books and to tell her about art and music.

I'm eager to see where Smith takes the rest of the quartet. Autumn was a quiet book, but deceptively so.
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LibraryThing member Cariola
Like many of Ali Smith's books, there is an element of the experimental about Autumn. The plot is relatively thin--a young woman sits in a nursing home with a 101-year old former neighbor, and both ponder the past and the future, mostly inside their heads--and tumbles back and forth through time, but neither of these are flaws but rather but part and parcel of the experiment. This is a book that can't be pinned down to a mere plot description because it is so much more. It's about philosophy, the meaning and structure of time, and the role of memory. It's a critique of a world in which we face Brexit, Trump, renewed sexism, fear and hatred of immigrants, a demanding bureaucracy, suspicion and disconnection from one another, technology overload, disrespect for education and the arts, the need for love in such a world, and more. The key to enjoying this book is to simply go with its flow; let it take you where it wants you to go. Many segments have a dreamlike quality that is intensified by Smith's use of language. There are bits of poetry interjected, and some passages play on words (Smith is particularly fond of anaphora, the repetition of an initial word of phrase in succeeding sentences). Passages from Brave New World, The Tempest, A Tale of Two Cities, Keats, and more filter through the narrative. Images recur in different forms; "leaf/leaves" is perhaps the most apparent--an image particularly suited to the season of the book's title. The two main characters, Elisabeth Demand, a 30-something art historian who is about to lose her job, and Daniel Gluck, her slowly dying one-time neighbor stand at opposite edges of the season, one more fading summer than autumn, the other more early winter than fall.

So on to the characters. When Elisabeth and her mother first moved to their neighborhood, she found a friend in Daniel, a man who introduced her to art and music and opened her mind to new ideas. Daniel is the person who introduced her to the work of Pauline Boty, a now mostly forgotten pop artist who was the only woman at the heart of this '60s movement, and Boty becomes the topic of Elisabeth's PhD dissertation. Elisabeth shares professional memories of her research on Boty, including her rather tragic biography. But in his "long sleep" before death, Daniel's memories are much more personal. Elisabeth's mother is a strong secondary character who adds to the themes of the perseverance of hope, the necessity of love, and the possibility of change--all of which come as something of a surprise, as indeed they do in real life.

Autumn will not be for everyone, particularly not for those who prefer a linear plot, a straightforward narrative, and a readily decipherable theme. But if you are willing to let go and let the book carry you along, you might find yourself well-satisfied with the outcome.
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LibraryThing member JBD1
A treat to read. Smith's delightful wordplay, her grasp of the everyday ridiculousnesses of life in today's crazy world, all of it. So looking forward to Winter, now!
LibraryThing member dchaikin
7. Autumn by Ali Smith
published: 2015
format: 264 page hardcover with a lot of white space
acquired: Library
read: Jan 28-29
time reading: 5 hr 6 min, 1.2 min/page
rating: 4

Read this while home sick, and it was a great sick day read. Smith has an effortlessly clever writing style which by itself makes her books fun, easy to pick up and quick to read. I suspect she could write almost any story she wanted and I would be happy to follow along. Here she takes on the massive dark cultural force behind and around Brexit, and all the pessimism that comes from it, and attacks it with... an underappreciated pop-artist who died tragically in her 20's and whose oeuvre of paintings were lost for some 30 years?

Visual arts are clearly a focus of Smith's and she does a lot of interesting things with them here, mainly through artist Pauline Boty's optimism in art and life. But she also does a lot with a couple really interesting main characters and their curious relationship. And she uses tons of literary references, including, by name, Brave New World, Ovid's Metamorphosis, and A Tale of Two Cities...hmm. What was she doing by putting these titles in, and in that order? And should we think of them mainly in light of Brexit? And I don't know why her opening scene lies oh so close to Odysseus's arrival on the island of the Phaeacians. Spent the whole novel thinking about that, and I still am.

Hopefully you get the idea, there's a lot to think about inside here. Ali Smith has immediately become one for my favorite authors. So, thank you to anyone who has recommended Ali Smith in the past. And to anyone who hasn't read her, you might be missing out.
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LibraryThing member charl08
This isn’t fiction, the man says. This is the Post Office.

I liked How to Be Both and this novel picked up Smith's themes around time, relationships and really looking at art. With Elisabeth, a young art historian, we remember her childhood with Mr Gluck, the neighbour who introduced her to the work of Pauline Boty. She reads to him in the hospital bed and lives in a hostile post-Brexit-vote village. The dry humour is laced with anger at the intolerance and little Englander attitude.

Recommended.
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LibraryThing member lauralkeet
Ali Smith’s work is always experimental and interesting, and Autumn is no exception. That said, I didn’t connect with this book as strongly as I hoped to. Autumn is set in England in 2016 just after the Brexit vote. The country is torn in two, and Smith processes this dynamic through Elisabeth, a young woman in her 30s. Elisabeth’s childhood was strongly influenced by her neighbor, Daniel, who introduced her to art, music, and different ways of interpreting the world. Elisabeth returns home after a long absence to visit Daniel, who was recently admitted to a care home at the age of 101. Elisabeth reads aloud to Daniel and although he is usually asleep, she finds comfort and even healing in his presence.

Elisabeth’s relationship with Daniel was one of a few plot threads in Autumn, and the one I found most meaningful and moving. Another thread about an artist friend of Daniel’s, who later became the subject of Elisabeth’s academic research, was interesting but felt somewhat disjointed. Elisabeth’s relationship with her mother and interactions with British bureaucracy were amusing.

I wanted to love this book and can see why others did. I appreciate what Smith has done here. I was left feeling like this book was well-written and poetic, with more to say than I was able to receive.
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LibraryThing member Carmenere
Elisabeth Demand is a 32 year old junior lecturer at a university in London. By all accounts, her days, at times, are a struggle. Who can't relate to too much bureaucracy, no job security, high cost of living, employees devoted to their electronic devices when they should be doing their job, aging parents who still sow their wild oats and Brexit. It is not like the days of youth when she enjoyed long walks with her wise and gentlemanly old neighbor, Mr. Gluck who talked with her about words and art. He'd often ask her "What you reading?" but is he asking about a book when he says "Always be reading something,.....Even when we're not physically reading. How else will we read the world? Think of it as a constant."

The reader learns a little about Daniel Gluck through Elisabeth's recollections as she now sits beside his hospital bed while old age slowly takes his life. At this time, we also learn a little more about Elisabeth too and her admiration of 1960's artist Pauline Boty, who seems to have some connection to Mr. Gluck. Possibly, Smith's next installment (for Winter follows Autumn) will reveal the connection and this is why there is no resolution to the story at the conclusion of this book. Overall it is a lovely book with philosophic undertones and thought provoking ideas.
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LibraryThing member VivienneR
With writing that is mesmerizing, Smith touches on topics from wartime, to the sixties, and into the present that illustrate similarities, perpetual issues. Recurring references to sixties pop artist Pauline Boty is indicative of how fleeting fame can be, of how time, or appearance, can change perception. Characters are widely contrasted: from 101 year old Daniel to Christine Keeler to the bureaucratic post office worker, they provide a quirky look at who has influence, who matters. Fresh, innovative, whimsical: this is a book that will remain in the mind for a long time and definitely one that demands to be taken off the shelf for repeated readings.… (more)
LibraryThing member LyndaInOregon
Look, I realize this is supposed to be an Arty Book and very deep and intellectual, but I found it boring and pretentious.

Smith is playing with words here and larding the copy with Joycean puns, wordplay, and allusion as she shifts through time in a pointless tale sort of but not really about the friendship between a young woman and an older man; sort of but not really about Brexit; sort of but not really about op art and The Tempest and Brave New World and A Tale of Two Cities. Basically a waste of time.… (more)
LibraryThing member asxz
Outstanding. This is modern literary fiction at its finest. Urgent, funny, current, literary, with the added bonus of using a large enough font to make reading super-comfortable. And how could I not love a novel where one of the main characters begins every conversation with, "What are you reading?"

I don't know where Ms. Smith is going with this proposed quartet of novels, but I am already excited about reading the next one, and the next one, and the next one.… (more)
LibraryThing member saresmoore
Incredible.
LibraryThing member Beamis12
3.5 Ali Smith is not an easy author to read and yet her words and thoughts are beautiful. If you like a linear plot, you will not find it here, though it is mostly set in the period after Brexit, it goes back and forth in time. To a friendship between a young girl and an elderly man, a man who had quite a past, which is slowly uncovered. The thoughts expressed about Brexit are the same many are expressing here in the states after our recent election. Wonderfully and adroitly expressed about the way many of us feel.

She loves to play with words, play with scenes, this is sometimes challenging but if you just read, not expecting her to follow the supposed rules of fiction, these things are often delightful. She explores time, it's passing, autumn into winter, past into present, young into old, as the seasons change so do we. She throws in a pop artist, the Christin Keeler scandal, which I had to look up not being from Britain. Her description of the natural world absolutely gorgeous. As I was reading at times I was frustrated, wondering where could she possibly be going with this? Why does she throw this in? Yet, at books end I find myself thinking of what she wrote, wishing I understood more, but finding it nonetheless undeniably imprinted in my mind. May have to reread at a later point.

ARC from publisher.
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LibraryThing member RandyMetcalfe
Elisabeth Demand and Daniel Gluck couldn’t be more different. He was her neighbour when she was a child, already in his 80s even then. But his charm and wit and word-pictures are a perfect fit for Elisabeth’s imagination and élan. He is missing the sister he lost during the war. She is searching, perhaps, for a replacement for the father she can no longer remember. Or perhaps there aren’t any sub-texts. Maybe this is just what friendship looks like. In any case, their lives intertwine for a time and the effects ripple onward. Eventually Elisabeth reconnects with Daniel, now 101, as he recuperates in a nursing care home. She reads aloud to him as she waits for him to awaken.

Ali Smith’s infectious verve and wordplay is in full flow here. As ever, she is at her best when dealing with the precocious 11 year old Elisabeth. That is not surprising. What may be surprising is her affection for Daniel, a sad figure but filled with hidden joy. Mingling Daniel’s life with Elisabeth sets a number of challenges. As does mingling current events into a story that isn’t really about those events. (This was touted as being the first novel to tackle the after effects of the Brexit vote in the UK.) Some of it works very well. Some of it falls flat. And riding above all that is Smith’s prose styling, which now seems very familiar after more than 10 books. It is an enjoyable and quick read (the publishers insist on taking a very brief novel and increase the font size, reduce the page size, and include many half blank pages to make this look like something more substantial than it is). If you like Ali Smith’s writing, there is no reason you will not like this. As I did.

Gently recommended.
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LibraryThing member pgchuis
Elisabeth, a history of art teacher, visits her 101 year old former neighbour, Daniel, in his care home. Daniel, who is near to death, dreams about dying and Elisabeth remembers her friendship with Daniel (she was a child, he was already "old") and how he introduced her to art and imagination and ideas.

I found parts of this, especially Elisabeth's trips to the post office and her dealings with her mother, very entertaining. The other sections, which were more or less stream of consciousness, were quite trying. (I'm a fan of dialogue.) There were things left unexplained; what were the parallel fences? Were they merely a symbol of the effects of the Brexit vote? Why did Elisabeth turn her back on Daniel for 10 years? Speaking of dialogue, the absence of speech marks made reading tricky in places. This is the first Ali Smith novel I have read and I'm on the fence about trying another.… (more)
LibraryThing member cbl_tn
Ali Smith packs a lot into this short novel. It's the story of a friendship between centenarian
Daniel Gluck and 30-something Elisabeth Demand, an art history lecturer. Elisabeth has a special interest in a somewhat obscure pop artist, Pauline Boty. Smith alludes to current events in the form of the refugee crisis, and borrows language from literary giants like Dickens and Achebe (“It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times. Again. That's the thing about things. They fall apart, always have, always, will, it's in their nature.”) It's a gem of a book and well deserving of its spot on this year's Booker shortlist.

This review is based on an electronic advanced readers copy provided by the publisher through NetGalley.
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LibraryThing member hemlokgang
I found this novel to be delightful. The author's playfulness with language is wonderful. It is a novel about time, creativity, individuality, gender, and love. Above all, it is about being female. I look forward to her next in this seasonal series.
LibraryThing member alanteder
A Rich Harvest in Autumn

My favourite so far of the Booker 2017 Longlist, of which I've read or half-read about half.

This was a lyrical and often beautiful (with some great comedic side-steps) story of a young girl finding a mentor in an older retired songwriter and wordsmith who inspires her future career and the way she is able to repay the debt in the future. It jumps around in time with flashbacks but not in any sort of confusing fashion. Learning about real-life British artist/actress Pauline Boty (see "Pauline Boty: Pop Artist And Woman" & "Pauline Boty, 1938 - 1966: The Only Blonde in the World" for more) was a bonus.

Much seems to be made of this being a post-Brexit novel, but the idiocy of bureaucracy and short-sightedness of culture & arts funding cuts seems pretty universal to me. Anyway, reading it as a Canadian, perhaps the Brexit nuances may have been too subtle for me.

Regardless, the main issue is that it is a book about life and death and fulfilling yourself and then being of help to others and that should be of interest to all.
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LibraryThing member mooingzelda
I've seen this described as a post-Brexit novel, and there are certainly several passages that manage to perfectly sum up the mood of the country in the referendum period and beyond.

However, there's much more to the book - it's an exploration of time and how we don't necessarily experience it in a linear fashion; it's more circular because of the way we hold on to the past (as mentioned by Smith in interviews). The structure of the book reflects this, as it skips back and forth in time from the starting point of 2016.

The most compelling thing about the novel for me is the relationship between Elisabeth and Daniel, as they're both wonderful characters and I enjoyed the way they interact throughout. I'd never heard of Boty, so those sections were also very interesting.

Really, though, Smith's writing is just incredible throughout. I'm not at all surprised this made it onto the Booker shortlist!
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LibraryThing member ClareRhoden
I read this out of order - I read Winter first - and I confess that Winter is my *slight* favourite - but they are both brilliant.
Autumn is a little more angry, Winter slightly more elegiac.
They are both brilliant. read them!

Pages

288

ISBN

1101969946 / 9781101969946
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