Review: Autumn by Ali Smith
“Imagine if time could be kind of suspended, rather than us be suspended in it.”
Autumn by Ali Smith is an inventive novel with extraordinary prose. Smith explores the aftermath of Brexit, but I suspect US readers will find similarities in the outcome of the 2016 US election and Brexit. Autumn isn’t strictly a Brexit novel though, it also tells readers the story of forgotten pop artist Pauline Boty. Ali Smith’s main character Elisabeth Demand researches Pauline Boty, Britain’s only female pop artist, for her Ph.D dissertation. I was immediately drawn to this narrative and Boty’s tragic life. Smith weaves details of Boty’s work into this novel as she brilliantly connects Boty to John Keats.
What I found most compelling was Smith’s examination of this post-truth society that has gripped Britain as well as the United States, it was not just the anger of those who voted Remain but the exasperation that comes from dealing with post-truth politics; Smith’s subtle exploration of the political sphere is powerful. The themes in this novel are universal. I could feel Elisabeth’s exhaustion in her trips to the post office. Smith’s witty depiction of the social and political landscape in Britain comes through as Elisabeth struggles to renew her passport.
Daniel, Elisabeth’s closest friend, represents time. Perhaps he represents the passage of time or time itself, I found myself wondering about this great man that introduced Elisabeth to art. He is a rather fascinating character, who lived through the very worst times in humanity. Autumn is a remarkable novel.
Autumn is the first of four books. It is out in the UK and will be published in the USA on 7 February 2017. You can pre-order your copy here or buy the book here. I eagerly await the next installment of Seasonal.