Autumn by Ali Smith
I will admit that I started Autumn by Ali Smith with trepidation. I am a very linear person. I like things in a nice orderly fashion. I know Ali Smith is anything but linear. She is like reading a book and being lost in the mist. As a reader, you are constantly struggling to find your bearings, your true north. Time is an abstract concept in Ali Smith novels. That generally leaves me very, very uncomfortable. So I picked up her latest book, fully expecting to be frustrated.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. Yes, it is “time-challenged” as I define it. Yes, I was lost most of the time. But I have never enjoyed being lost as much as I enjoyed Autumn. The story revolves around the unusual friendship between Elisabeth and her elderly neighbor, Daniel. They meet when Elisabeth is a child, and their friendship evolves through the decades, Daniel providing the wisdom and mentorship that Elisabeth’s mother can not. The story comes to you in fragments and little shards of experiences, mostly as memories and little vignettes of each of their lives. Time is both irrelevant and critical to the story, as it flip flops back and forth. It is almost as if time is singular in focus, with no past, present and future — but rather happening all at once. It is unconventional and sublime in its method and its message.
Like the seasons, Ali Smith shows us that friendships are cyclical and always in transition. They waver in intensity, but true friends last a lifetime. This is summed up in one very poignant scene:
“Very pleased to meet you,” Daniel says the first time, to the 8-year old Elisabeth. “Finally.”
“How do you mean, finally?” Elisabth asks. “We only moved here six weeks ago.”
“The lifelong friends,” Daniel says. “We sometimes wait a lifetime for them.”
The first in a series of four, Autumn leaves the reader warm and cozy, like a late fall afternoon as the sun is setting. It is beautiful and it is poetic. But if you are expecting a rich plot, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Read it for what it is ….. a beautiful, heart-felt story of love and friendship. I recommend it to all of my friends. You know who you are.
Check out my recipe to pair with this great read!
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