20 October 2016
Autumn. Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. That's what it felt like for Keats in 1819.
How about Autumn 2016?
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.
Ali Smith's new novel is a meditation on a world growing ever more bordered and exclusive, on what richness and worth are, on what harvest means. This first in a seasonal quartet casts an eye over our own time. Who are we? What are we made of? Shakespearian jeu d'esprit, Keatsian melancholy, the sheer bright energy of 1960s Pop art: the centuries cast their eyes over our own history-making.
This is the best book I've read this year.
That is not an understatement.
Post Brexit, post Trump - post truth - this is the perfect read. Touching, heart-warming - breath taking - it's one of those books that flies by and you want to read again and again.
Admittedly, I'm not the biggest Ali Smith fan. Sadly. Her books are unique - a breath of fresh air, when done well. I find her a little hit and miss - sometimes her prose is brilliant and I just want to read on and on - and other times I find her books a battle to even finish.
This is one of her books that I love. Her style is brilliant, witty, and touching. And sad. Sad, but beautiful. It touches on themes of death, ageing, the passing of time. It's about the friendship between a young girl and an old man, but also society. Ali Smith weaves different stories and realities and turns something deceptively simple into something beautiful.
This is one of those books that is more than just a book. It's one of those books that reminds you writing is art. I came to read this book from her previous - How To Be Both - and found the difference astonishing. Compared to HTBB, which I struggled to even finish, Autumn is on a different level entirely.
The Brexit vote crops up as a theme - it's the first time I've read about it in a book. Which makes it all the more sadder - depending on what you voted for. It discusses how the vote has affected British life, what cultural divides it has suddenly brought to the surface. It contrasts ordinary life with the huge political shifts happening behind the scenes - which is something you can appreciate whichever way you voted.
That's another post entirely.
Anyway, you should read this book. It's not just a story, it's a look at time and at modern British life, the mood of a post-Brexit country and the divisions that have suddenly ripped through society - and it does it in such a subtle way that you hardly realise it.