Autumn – Ali Smith

This novel was touted as the first Brexit novel, due to its publication in 2016 only four months after the Brexit vote, and was subsequently short listed for the Man Booker Prize. It is the first in a series that Smith plans to write over the next few years, Winter, the second was released in 2017. Smith wrote this novel in a response to the Brexit referendum result, and throughout it she is critical of the result, this makes the short time between the start of writing and publication important as it reflects the true reaction of Smith to the result.

Autumn tells the story of two characters; 101 year old Daniel Gluck, and 32 year old Elisabeth Demand. The two characters used to be neighbours as Elisabeth was growing up, and Daniel Gluck has had a huge influence on her life. Elisabeth is now an arts lecturer at a London university, mostly thanks to Daniel’s influence during her teenage years. The novel revolves around Daniel, he is in a coma but Elisabeth comes to visit, reads to him from famous novels and the news of the day. We learn about their relationship, how it developed when they were neighbours, and how Elisabeth now feels that she is in love with him. As the novel develops we learn that Daniel was a songwriter in his youth and he knew or met a number of famous musicians and artists. He introduced Elisabeth to the art of Pauline Boty, the only female Pop-artist of the 1960s, whom she later writes her university thesis about. Boty’s work actually graces the cover of the novel.

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Throughout this novel we see pieces of 21st Century Britain; the house that has graffiti written on it, ‘Go Home’, the fence being built around public land, and Elisabeth informing Daniel that the MP Jo Cox has been murdered. Autumn is clearly an anti-Brexit novel, highlighting the problems that stem from the result of the vote. I enjoyed Autumn but I could definitely tell it was written in four months, and I’m not sure it deserved to be nominated for awards. Smith has definitely written the first Brexit novel, however I feel the subject deserves more, parts of this writing seems rushed and doesn’t come across well. I would be interested to read Winter the follow up, to see if the same is true of that novel.

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