Autumn, by Ali Smith

I suppose this book attracted me because of the title – it is the season! But I do so wish it had won the Man Booker prize. It is such a lovely bridge between present and past. There is only a bit of hope for the future, but its wisdom is in the descriptions of culture and relationship.

As I noted above, there are these great lists in the book, lists or paragraphs of statements and puzzles. Here is one, spoken by one protagonist, Elizabeth.

That’s not what I mean, she says. I’m tired of the news. I’m tired of the way it makes things spectacular that aren’t, and deals so simplistically with what’s truly appalling. I’m tired of the vitriol. I’m tired of the anger. I’m tired of the meanness. I’m tired of the selfishness. I’m tired of how we’re doing nothing to stop it. I’m tired of how we’re encouraging it. I’m tired of the violence there is and I’m tired of the violence that’s on its way, that’s coming, that hasn’t happened yet. I’m tired of liars. I’m tired of sanctified liars. I’m tired of how those liars have let this happen. I’m tired of having to wonder whether they did it out of stupidity or did it on purpose. I’m tired of lying governments. I’m tired of people not caring whether they’re being lied to any more. I’m tired of being made to feel this fearful. I’m tired of animosity. I’m tired of pusillanimosity.

[Smith, Ali. Autumn: A Novel (pp. 56-58). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

And here’s another:

I’m what’s below. I’m what’s above. I’m the fly. I’m the descendant of the fly. I’m the descendant of the descendant of the descendant of the descendant of the descendant of the descendant of the fly. I’m the circle. I’m the square. I’m all the shapes. I’m geometry. I haven’t even started with the telling you what I am. I’m everything that makes everything. I’m everything that unmakes everything. I’m fire. I’m flood. I’m pestilence. I’m the ink, the paper, the grass, the tree, the leaves, the leaf, the greenness in the leaf. I’m the vein in the leaf. I’m the voice that tells no story.

[Smith, Ali. Autumn: A Novel (p. 192). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

Elizabeth grows from childhood to adulthood in these paragraphs, engaging her own thought with that of her neighbor Mr. Gluck. Their exchanges are amazing and full of wonder. And it makes me wonder how Elizabeth might have grown and learned without her conversations with Mr. Gluck, when she was a child and when she sat at his death bed in the nursing home.

One more paragraph:

All across the country all the things from the past stacked on the shelves in the shops and the barns and the warehouses, piled into display units and on top of display units, spilling up stairs from the cellars of the shops, down stairs from the attic rooms of the shops, like a huge national orchestra biding its time, the bows held just above the strings, all the fabrics muted, all the objects holding still and silent till the shops empty of people, till the alarms play their electronic beeps at the doors, till the keys turn in the locks in the thousands of shops and barns and warehouses all across the country. Then, when darkness falls, the symphony. Oh. Oh, that’s a beautiful idea. The symphony of the sold and the discarded. The symphony of all the lives that had these things in them once. The symphony of worth and worthlessness. The Clarice Cliff fakes would be flutey. The brown furniture would be bass, low. The photographs in the old damp-stained albums would be whispery through their tracing paper. The silver would be pure. The wickerwork would be reedy. The porcelains? They’d have voices that sound like they might break any minute. The wood things would be tenor. Yes, but would the real things sound any different from the reproduction things?

[Smith, Ali. Autumn: A Novel (pp. 219-220). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

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