Books Read in 2021 3. Autumn – Ali Smith

Genre: Literary fiction.

Narrative Style: Third person from a number of points of view. Non linear.

Rating: 3/5

Published: 2016

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: It’s 2016. The UK has just voted to leave the EU. Daniel is 101 years old and lying asleep in a care home bed. Elisabeth, who was his next door neighbour when she was a teenager, visits him. The novels shows Daniel’s past and Elizabeth’s present.

Time on shelf: About a year. I bought it because I was curious to read a novel that was such a quick response to Brexit.

I’m genuinely not sure what to make of this novel. On the one hand, it is a realistic rendering of Elisabeth’s life after Brexit. It also gives some details of Elisabeth’s and Daniel’s conversations. On the other, it is an account of Daniel’s memories and dreams that are often absurd and non linear. I found it hard to pull these two very different styles together.

The novel begins with a dream like chapter where Daniel believes that he has died. He is naked and his body returns to its younger state and he seems to be in some sort of woodland with some other naked people. It isn’t made clear what is happening. The action then switches to Elisabeth who is trying to renew her passport and has opted to have the post office check it before she sends it off. This leads to a frustrating and very funny episode where Elisabeth’s photos, and consequently her whole head, are deemed wrong.

The whole novel shifts around like this and there are also chapters dealing with Christine Keeler and the artist Pauline Boty who Elisabeth writes about for her dissertation. It is a bit disorientating and pretty far from a traditional narrative. Not that this is a problem necessarily but it didn’t seem to add up to much.

I’m guessing it’s about time and the different ways we experience it. Daniel’s dreams are as real as any of Elisabeth’s experiences. He sleeps – the care home assistants say that he is near to death – and who can say that his sense of time is less accurate that Elisabeth’s as she sits reading to him. But again, I found it hard to see the overall point that Smith was trying to make or what pulled the whole thing together.

Maybe you need to read the whole series for it to completely make sense but after being so nonplussed with this one, I can’t imagine I will bother.

Day 7 – What is your favorite season? Use vivid details and even include memories you have of that season.

Day 7 of Chrys Fey’s 30 Day Writing Challenge –  What is your favourite season? Use vivid details and even include memories you have of that season.

The colours of autumn are the last gasp of the trees before the death of winter. The reds, browns and yellows are beautiful in a way that the greens of spring just aren’t. The green’s beauty is understandable. It represents birth, renewal, the continuance of life. It shows off the life of the tree. By contrast, the reds and browns are representative of the nearing of the end. There is no need for such beauty. Looking at the glory of colours, the riot for the eyes, you would not necessarily believe that the next step for the leaf will be to crunch under someone’s foot.

The best autumn weather is the low sun, the blue sky and the cool dry day. The blue is not the deep blue of a summer sky. It isn’t brazen and it doesn’t suggest heat. It’s a subtle, gentle blue. You know it will be cold but also crisp, also dry. A time for pulling on the layers. Gloved and scarved, you can keep your warmth while walking in the beautiful sunshine.

The definitive noise of autumn is the leaves under the feet. The last thing the leaves give us, after the glorious fire of their colours, is the wondrous crunch and crack when you run through them.

As my birthday is in November, Autumn is associated with a sense of heightened excitement. As a child, the excitement would start in October and not really lessen until Christmas. I still feel a sense of anticipation at the start of the season which gives the weather and the colours a sense of optimism that they wouldn’t otherwise. It is the start of the season of celebration.