Thursday, 6 January 2022

The worst of times

Autumn In simple terms, Autumn is about the relationship that develops between a 9-year-old girl called Elisabeth, and her elderly next door neighbour, Daniel Gluck. There's a lot more to it than that tho'.

It's a book firmly set in its time, that of the UK post-Brexit. Lack of funds for community services have led to libraries being closed, the way the Brexit referendum was framed has led to thoughtless tribalism, and the idea of protecting the land from invasion by foreigners is rife.

Ali Smith's writing style won't be to everyone's taste. The story structure doesn't begin at the beginning, nor does it end at the ending. Instead, the narrative moves back and forth, a bit like how your mind flits around when you're staring into space, not thinking of anything in particular. It's like a jigsaw puzzle; two pieces side by side seem unconnected, but after a while you come across an image that fits with one you saw, or read, earlier and the picture as a whole starts to make sense.

If you're a reader who likes to investigate references within the story, Ali Smith provides a wealth of google-worthy material. I recognised the quote nods to Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities, and knew of the Profumo scandal. Female pop-artist Pauline Boty was unknown to me before reading the book.

Don't be put off tho'. There's plenty of humour and warmth. An early scene in the post office made me smile, recognising the petty bureaucracy of the man behind the counter. I gave a cheer and laughed at Elisabeth's mother's act of vandalism in sticking it to authority. But above all, the humanity of the relationship between Elisabeth and the wise, elderly Daniel gives us hope for the future.

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