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Autumn

Cover of Autumn

Autumn

A Novel
by Ali Smith
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. It is the first installment of her Seasonal quartet—four stand-alone books, separate yet interconnected and cyclical (as the seasons are)—and it casts an eye over our own time. Who are we? What are we made of? Shakespearean jeu d'esprit, Keatsian melancholy, the sheer bright energy of 1960s pop art: the centuries cast their eyes over our own history making.

Here's where we're living. Here's time at its most contemporaneous and its most cyclic.
From the imagination of the peerless Ali Smith comes a shape-shifting series, wide-ranging in time-scale and light-footed through histories, a story about aging and time and love and stories themselves.
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. It is the first installment of her Seasonal quartet—four stand-alone books, separate yet interconnected and cyclical (as the seasons are)—and it casts an eye over our own time. Who are we? What are we made of? Shakespearean jeu d'esprit, Keatsian melancholy, the sheer bright energy of 1960s pop art: the centuries cast their eyes over our own history making.

Here's where we're living. Here's time at its most contemporaneous and its most cyclic.
From the imagination of the peerless Ali Smith comes a shape-shifting series, wide-ranging in time-scale and light-footed through histories, a story about aging and time and love and stories themselves.
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Excerpts-
  • From the book 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. So an old old man washes up on a shore. He looks like a punctured football with its stitching split, the leather kind that people kicked a hundred years ago. The sea's been rough. It has taken the shirt off his back; naked as the day I was born are the words in the head he moves on its neck, but it hurts to. So try not to move the head. What's this in his mouth, grit? it's sand, it's under his tongue, he can feel it, he can hear it grinding when his teeth move against each other, singing its sand-song: I'm ground so small, but in the end I'm all, I'm softer if I'm underneath you when you fall, in sun I glitter, wind heaps me over litter, put a message in a bottle, throw the bottle in the sea, the bottle's made of me, I'm the hardest grain to harvest

    to harvest

    the words for the song trickle away. He is tired. The sand in his mouth and his eyes is the last of the grains in the neck of the sandglass.

    Daniel Gluck, your luck's run out at last.

    He prises open one stuck eye. But –

    Daniel sits up on the sand and the stones

    – is this it? really? this? is death?

    He shades his eyes. Very bright.

    Sunlit. Terribly cold, though.

    He is on a sandy stony strand, the wind distinctly harsh, the sun out, yes, but no heat off it. Naked, too. No wonder he's cold. He looks down and sees that his body's still the old body, the ruined knees.

    He'd imagined death would distil a person, strip the rotting rot away till everything was light as a cloud.

    Seems the self you get left with on the shore, in the end, is the self that you were when you went.

    If I'd known, Daniel thinks, I'd have made sure to go at twenty, twenty five.

    Only the good.

    Or perhaps (he thinks, one hand shielding his face so if anyone can see him no one will be offended by him picking out what's in the lining of his nose, or giving it a look to see what it is – it's sand, beautiful the detail, the different array of colours of even the pulverized world, then he rubs it away off his fingertips) this is my self distilled. If so then death's a sorry disappointment.

    Thank you for having me, death. Please excuse me, must get back to it, life.

    He stands up. It doesn't hurt, not so much, to.

    Now then.

    Home. Which way?

    He turns a half circle. Sea, shoreline, sand, stones. Tall grass, dunes. Flatland behind the dunes. Trees past the flatland, a line of woods, all the way back round to the sea again.

    The sea is strange and calm.

    Then it strikes him how unusually good his eyes are today.

    I mean, I can see not just those woods, I can see not just that tree, I can see not just that leaf on that tree. I can see the stem connecting that leaf to that tree.

    He can focus on the loaded seedhead at the end of any piece of grass on those dunes over there pretty much as if he were using a camera zoom. And did he just look down at his own hand and see not just his hand, in focus, and not just a scuff of sand on the side of his hand, but several separate grains of sand so clearly delineated that he can see their edges, and (hand goes to his forehead) no glasses ?

    Well.

    He rubs sand off his legs and arms and chest then off his hands. He watches the flight of the grains of it as it dusts away from him in the air. He reaches down, fills his hand with sand. Look at that. So many.

    Chorus:

    How many worlds can you hold in a hand.

    In a handful of...
About the Author-
  • ALI SMITH is the author of many works of fiction, including the novel Hotel World, which was short-listed for both the Orange Prize and the Man Booker Prize and won the Encore Award and the Scottish Arts Council Book of the Year Award, and The Accidental, which won the Whitbread Award and was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize and the Orange Prize for Fiction. Her most recent novel, How to be both, was a Man Booker Prize finalist and winner of the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction, the Goldsmiths Prize, the Costa Novel Award, and the Saltire Society Scottish Fiction Book of the Year Award. Born in Inverness, Scotland, Smith lives in Cambridge, England.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from March 6, 2017
    This splendid free-form novel—the first in a seasonally themed tetralogy—chronicles the last days of a lifelong friendship between Elisabeth, a British university lecturer in London, and her former neighbor, a centenarian named Daniel. Opening with an oblique, dreamy prologue about mortality, the novel proper sets itself against this past summer's historic Brexit vote, intermittently flashing back to the early years of Elisabeth and Daniel's relationship. Though there are a few relevant subplots, including Elisabeth's nightmarish attempt to procure a new passport, as well as her fascination with the painter Pauline Boty, the general plot is appropriately shapeless, reflecting the character's discombobulated psyche. Smith (How to Be Both) deftly juxtaposes her protagonists' physical and emotional states in the past and present, tracking Elisabeth's path from precocity to disillusionment. Eschewing traditional structure and punctuation, the novel charts a wild course through uncertain terrain, an approach that excites and surprises in equal turn. Seen through Elisabeth's eyes, Daniel's deterioration is particularly affecting. Smith, always one to take risks, sees all of them pay off yet again.

  • Valerie Miner, The Boston Globe "'All across the country, people felt it was the wrong thing. All across the country, people felt it was the right thing. All across the country, people felt they'd really lost. All across the country, people felt they'd really won.' That might sound like present-second America, but it's actually Scottish novelist Ali Smith--with a leg up from Dickens--describing post-Brexit Britain in Autumn, the first of a planned quartet of season-based novels. Smith is well known for taking an elastic approach to words. Here, she extends that courtesy to time itself. . . . Layered, resonant, and wittily clever, Autumn confirms that Smith is a novelist for our time--'time' meaning at least the next four years."
  • Edward T. Wheeler, Commonweal "With customary intrepidness, the celebrated Scottish author of several previous books of fiction raises questions about aging, the elasticity of friendship, aesthetic politics, and the meaning of fame. . . . Like any successful novel of ideas, Autumn doesn't end; it reverberates in one's bones, recalling Eugenio Montale's argument in The Second Life of Art, that the power of a book, painting, dance, or any art form is not a culminating catharsis but a recurring echo. Thus Smith's autumnal leaves cling to trees as the questions and quandaries linger. . . . Autumn shimmers with wit, melancholy, grief, joy, wisdom, small acts of love and, always, wonder at the seasons."
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    Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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