Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book
Rate this book
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 . . .

264 pages, Paperback

First published October 20, 2016

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Ali Smith

170 books4,326 followers
Ali Smith is a writer, born in Inverness, Scotland, to working-class parents. She was raised in a council house in Inverness and now lives in Cambridge. She studied at Aberdeen, and then at Cambridge, for a Ph.D. that was never finished. In a 2004 interview with writing magazine Mslexia, she talked briefly about the difficulty of becoming ill with chronic fatigue syndrome for a year and how it forced her to give up her job as a lecturer at University of Strathclyde to focus on what she really wanted to do: writing. She has been with her partner Sarah Wood for 17 years and dedicates all her books to her.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
19,471 (28%)
4 stars
22,456 (32%)
3 stars
17,432 (25%)
2 stars
6,199 (8%)
1 star
3,794 (5%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 6,424 reviews
Profile Image for Adina.
827 reviews3,226 followers
September 14, 2017
I don’t know. I don’t know what to write about Autumn. I don’t even know what I’ve read. What was I supposed to get from this book, what was the purpose? Was it a Brexit novel? I don’t think so. It does talk some about Brexit. But it also talks about a strange friendship between a little girl (presently grown up) and an old man. Odd conversations those two had. And about a dubious Pop Artist. There were also a few weird, moderately fun, post office conversations. There were some interesting parts and some parts that I could not get, no matter how much I was frowning at the page. There were jumps from one time line to another. There were dreams, death dreams There were quotations from books. There were other stuff that I did not care for or had any idea what they meant. Something about a sexual scandal.

As you can see, I cannot write a coherent review because I did not think the book was coherent either. I get it, I appreciate the originality and all. That’s why I’m giving it 3 stars. There were good parts, I even smiled once or twice but I cannot say I enjoyed the experience. Most likely, I am not the right person to read Ali Smith. Sorry I cannot do better.

To make up for it will post the visual opinion of my cat on this novel. I have the impression she enjoyed it more than I did. She thinks it tasted delicious.



I know, I know. Cat pictures for a serious book shortlisted to the Booker Prize. I don’t care. The author spent half the book writing about some strange collages of a Pop Art painter with all the details included, so I can do whatever I want with my review. It is another form of art, isn’t it? . I've probably gone mad.
Profile Image for Ilse.
456 reviews2,942 followers
September 19, 2020
This is England

Autumn is the first instalment of Ali Smith’s ‘seasonal quartet’ - a cycle ‘exploring the subjective experience of time, questioning the nature of time itself'. Triggered to read it by the title – autumn is my favourite season – this first episode was a wondrous introduction to Smith’s writing for me. Awaiting, anticipating, wondering about the next episodes to come – which characters would return, which artists Ali Smith would spotlight - was an integral part of the marvellous and exhilarating experience that was reading the entire cycle in order of appearance.

Autumn is a playful, multi-layered and at times delectably subversive novel on the floating of time, aging, identity, art, love and friendship, grounded knee-deep in the grim realities of today’s post-truth politics, against the backdrop of the aftermath of the Brexit-vote.

Set right here, right now, the story time-travels back and forth between the past and the present. Since primary school, Elisabeth, now 32 and an art history lecturer, and her next-door neighbour, Daniel Gluck, about 70 years her senior, are close friends. Both soulmates are bruised - Elisabeth is fatherless and Daniel is alone. From flashbacks and dreams, we learn from their childhood and past. While Daniel – a collector of ‘arty art’ - has awakened Elisabeth’s sensibility to art and honed her skills of critical thinking, encouraging her to be a girl ‘reading the world’, Elisabeth now spends hours next to his bed while he dozes off in a care home, reading Shakespeare and Huxley to him.
What you reading? Always be reading something, he said. Even when we’re not physically reading. How else will we read the world? Think of it as a constant.
Smith parallels two key moments in recent history and present day UK by connecting them both to dishonesties in politics, suggesting these lies had critical impact on society, the Brexit vote and the Profumo Scandal of 1963. She astutely smuggles the latter into the novel by interlacing the scandal and the life of her main characters, Daniel and Elisabeth, with the vibrant and tragically short life of Pauline Boty (1938-1966), the only female representative artist in British Pop Art, whose legacy is continuously oscillating between oblivion and rediscovery. Pauline Boty used a shot of the famous chair photograph series by Lewis Morley of the women at the heart of the Profumo scandal, Christine Keeler, in a collage painting which has been mysteriously missing soon after she had painted it, Scandal ‘63.



To say the least, these lies make people sick: She hadn’t known that proximity to lies, even just reading about them, could make you feel so ill. By showing the effect of lies by the powerful on society, how they divide people and infuriate them, Smith makes one ponder on the significance of truth. Is there really anything new under the sun in this acrimonious year of the prevalence of post-truth politics? Or it is just an illustration of the unchangeable nature of power and the corroded order of things?

By reviving feminist artist Pauline Boty, Smith thematises the position of women in modern art. Some titles of Boty’s paintings, like ‘It’s a man’s world’ speak volumes in that respect. Smith’s Boty proclaims I am a person. I’m an intelligent nakedness. An intellectual body. I’m a bodily intelligence. Art’s full of nudes and I’m a thinking, choosing nude. I’m the artist as nude. I’m the nude as artist’.. This assertion reminded me of the mission statement of the Guerrilla Girls, a feminist group denouncing discrimination, tracking and keeping statistics on the representation of female artists in museums. Art still is a man’s world, to a very high extent.


However obvious Smith’s sympathies in the debate, do not expect pure doom and gloom. Instead of wallowing in woeful defeatism, the characters shine in heart-warming and infectious combativeness and witty insurgence. The Kafkaesque scenes at the post office resemble absurdist sketches, while they are at the same time a virulent critique on the ridiculously bureaucratic demands regulation imposes on people - and on a society that turns a blind eye to the homeless which have to shelter in public buildings, without anyone blinking.

The energetic pace of the writing, brimming with jocular wordplay, literary references and puns smoothly coincides with the melancholic undercurrent of this novel, as Autumn breathes an atmosphere of transience. People die, at young age. Everything is temporary, like the leaves falling in autumn. Entering history equals finding ‘endless sad fragility’:
Elisabeth had last come to the field just after the circus had left, especially to look at the flat dry place where the circus had had its tent. She liked doing melancholy things like that. But now you couldn’t tell that any of these summer things had ever happened. There was just an empty field. The sports tracks had faded and gone. The flattened grass, the places that had turned to mud where the crowds had wandered round between the rides and the open-sided trucks of the driving and shooting games, the ghost circus ring: nothing but grass.

Il faut reculer pour mieux sauter. Perhaps one could say that Ali Smith in a way indulges in facile preaching to the choir, mollycoddling the right-minded citizens mourning the present state of the world. But why not just delight in her eloquently phrased discourse and lithe sentences, nodding approvingly while licking one’s wounds instead of sinking into despair? Fite dem Back.

I thank NetGalley, Penguin and Ali Smith for granting me an ARC.
Profile Image for Fionnuala.
778 reviews
September 13, 2020
What are you reading?

A tale of two people.

Tell me about it.

It's a book full of leaves, green ones and brown ones. And white ones too, of course.

Ha! But seriously, describe it to me.

It's a book with a hole in the middle.

Now you're just being absurd.

No, wait. There's really as much absence as presence in this book.

Tell me what's in it, not what's not in it.

It's a book of fragments that fit together in odd arrangements.

Give me an example of the way the fragments fit together.

There's a sister who doesn't exist and a sister who no longer exists.

Not bad. Give me another fragment.

There are people who use the word Home when they really mean Away, as in Go ----.

Oh, right. Brexit.

There are lies about lying about lies about lying.

Please give me something that's not about politicians.

There's a time that's really a place.

Give me something less abstract.

A giant soldier squashes a woman with his boot.

Argh!! Don't tell me anything else about this book.

Would it be ok if it wasn't a giant soldier but just a man, and he squashed a mouse not a person?

No! Definitely not! Maybe you could tell me what isn't in the book instead of giving me such freaky fragments.

====== ……… ======= ……… ====== ………

Why are you holding your breath like that?

Because the unsaid in this book lies in the gaps between breaths.

Normal people don't have gaps in their breathing.

A person who is breathing his last might—if he had enough luck to die leisurely.

So what do those gaps tell about?

The black hole in twentieth century history.

Just say the Holocaust.

Did you know 'holo' means 'whole' and 'caust' means destroyed by fire?


So the entire word means an absence in a presence, the 'hole' in 'whole'.

Wait a minute. Is that interpretation of the term 'Holocaust' in the book?

Well, no. But you can read it between the leaves...
Profile Image for Barry Pierce.
556 reviews7,407 followers
June 17, 2020
2020 update: this is still amazing.

Hailed as the first post-Brexit novel, in Autumn Ali Smith proves to us all that she is probably the greatest writer currently working in the United Kingdom. The fact that this novel was published a mere four months after the disastrous Brexit vote but yet analyses its aftermath as a central theme shows a turnaround that is nearly insane. Smith must have practically vomited this novel into her word processor, which makes its utter flawlessness almost divine.

The novel begins with a man, Daniel Gluck, who seems to have washed up on a beach. Believing he has died he casts his eye along the beach and sees even more like him. The corpses of refugees line the beach, interspersed between lounging sunbathers and laughing children who seem to take no notice of the corpses around them. This opening scene demonstrates Smith's intent with Autumn, she is writing a Zeitgeist novel.

Luckily for Daniel, this scene is all a dream, as he is in a coma. Most days, in the chair beside him is a woman who the nurses believe is his granddaughter. She is no relation. She is Elisabeth (with an S) Demand (from the French, Du Monde). She is the tentpole upon which this novel drapes. Autumn is a exploration of her life and of those around her. But it is also a study of every person living in Great Britain post-Brexit. It is the story of Christine Keeler, yes THAT Christine Keeler, of Profumo fame. And it is the story of Pauline Boty. But I'll let you discover the wonder that she was.

Autumn is oftentimes hilarious, touching, informative and playful. Smith is still the master of structure and form and plays around with each like a master conductor. There are no flaws in this novel. If I had read it when it was published Autumn would have by far been my favourite novel of the year. Ali Smith can do no wrong.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,732 reviews14.1k followers
December 11, 2016
Ali Smith is not an easy author to read and yet her words and thoughts are beautiful. If you like a linear plot, you will not find it here, though it is mostly set in the period after Brexit, it goes back and forth in time. To a friendship between a young girl and an elderly man, a man who had quite a past, which is slowly uncovered. The thoughts expressed about Brexit are the same many are expressing here in the states after our recent election. Wonderfully and adroitly expressed about the way many of us feel.

She loves to play with words, play with scenes, this is sometimes challenging but if you just read, not expecting her to follow the supposed rules of fiction, these things are often delightful. She explores time, it's passing, autumn into winter, past into present, young into old, as the seasons change so do we. She throws in a pop artist, the Christine Keeler scandal, which I had to look up not being from Britain. Her description of the natural world absolutely gorgeous. As I was reading at times I was frustrated, wondering where could she possibly be going with this? Why does she throw this in? Yet, at books end I find myself thinking of what she wrote, wishing I understood more, but finding it nonetheless undeniably imprinted in my mind. May have to reread at a later point.

ARC from publisher.
Profile Image for Violet wells.
433 reviews3,043 followers
November 4, 2018
I was struggling with this initially. Ali Smith's prose style reminds me of someone dressed in a dressing gown and slippers, hair unbrushed, wandering about a house with barely a grain of self-consciousness. In stark contrast to lots of writers who spend hours in front the mirror, layering on embellishment after embellishment, before they take a step onto the page. Smith can give the impression of voicing aloud her thoughts the moment she has them. No artificial colouring or sweetening additives. The petty mixed in with the profound. This is what this book felt like for a while. A woman walking about in her dressing gown and slippers making up a story as she went along, sometimes becoming distracted by trifles, sometimes making a discovery of historic importance. But I should have known it's more the architecture of the novel Smith is fascinated by than wordsmithery or sentence writing and there comes a moment in this novel where everything suddenly shiningly adheres. It's an exciting moment and there's no looking back afterwards. It's a novel with a huge heart and an urgent though subtly interwoven warning about making rash prejudicial judgements. Especially with regard to our neighbours. 4.5 stars from me.
Profile Image for emma.
1,822 reviews48.1k followers
October 28, 2022
to have been in a reading slump for more than a month, maybe longer, during which reading never even occurs to you and feels unnatural when it does, and then you start to feel it might be over and you finish a short book or two but then you pick one up that you actually can't stop reading, that you find your mind touching on in idle moments and your hands picking up whenever you have a spare moment - what a thing!!

this was beautiful, stimulating, and lovely, and reading a book called autumn during autumn, which is also my favorite season...pure bliss.

i adore what i learned. i adored the end. i adore feelings precisely like the one i had while reading this, finally out of a long, mournful reading slump.

bottom line: it's taking everything in me to wait till winter to read winter!

currently-reading updates

tis the season!

tbr review

i'll admit it. i added this book for aesthetic alone
Profile Image for Charlotte May.
695 reviews1,073 followers
November 1, 2019
Ok so.... I didn’t really get it 🤷‍♀️

I think I'm just going to have to stay away from the Booker Nominees. There always seems to be some hidden secret that everyone else knows, which gives the book 5 star reviews, while I sit here just....lost.

Autumn is written in non-linear prose. Which is a good starting point as to why I didn't like it - I can't get with that type of writing. I like my stories in some kind of order, at the very least. In Autumn we jump from Elisabeth as a child, hanging out with her 80 year old next door neighbour, Daniel; to her visiting Daniel in a home when Elisabeth is suddenly an adult.

There are paragraphs which really resonated with me. There was a focus on Brexit and how it has altered people's behaviour and attitudes toward one another, I liked that. But just as soon as a section like that arrived, it would jump to some long tedious conversation between Elisabeth and the staff member in the Post Office. I was just stumped.

I'm not sure what the point was, if there is even supposed to be one. I'm really happy for those who enjoyed this - they clearly 'got' something that I have missed... but there we are.

Onwards and upwards I guess.
Profile Image for Hugh.
1,256 reviews49 followers
October 19, 2017
My fourth book from the Booker longlist, this is another that, like Reservoir 13, would have made a worthy winner. At the time of its release this book was billed as the first Brexit novel, but there is so much more to it than that.

update 19 Oct - Sadly, and yet again, Ali Smith did not win, but I was very impressed by her performance and the way she encouraged Emily Fridlund and Fiona Mozley at the Nottingham shortlist readings event, which I attended last week (the other three shortlisted writers were not there).

Reservoir 13 is out, so this is my clear favourite book in the shortlist

Smith starts by introducing two characters - Daniel Gluck, who is 101 and clinging to life in a care home, and Elisabeth Demand, who was born in 1984 and knew him as a child when he was her neighbour. In the first part of the book Elisabeth is confronted by various decaying public institutions and the petty jobsworths who enforce the rules - the early scene in which she fights with the post office over a passport application is very funny. These are mixed up with her memories of her conversations with Daniel as a child in which he encouraged her to think differently, and her visits to Daniel in the care home where he spends most of his time asleep.

As in many of her other books (notably Like and There but for the), Smith writes very powerfully and sympathetically about intelligent children and how they learn. In this section Daniel introduces Elisabeth to the work of Pauline Boty, the other main subject of the book, by describing some of her lost paintings. Daniel remembers meeting and being obsessed by Boty, and also has an immigrant backstory of his own.

Boty was a leading pop artist in 60s London, who died young and was subsequently written out of history by the male critics of the time and her family's refusal to exhibit her work. Her life and work is described in glowing detail, along with one of her inspirations, Christine Keeler. The tone of the book changes from the disillusion and resignation Elisabeth feels when confronted with the British cultural changes that led to the Brexit vote to a form of hope embodied by Boty and her defiant flaunting of the expectations of her suburban middle class family.

This is a richly rewarding novel of ideas, and as always Smith flits between her themes lightly. Smith is a national treasure, and this is one of her best books. This is the first of a projected four seasonally themed novels, and I look forward to the rest.
Profile Image for Nicole.
438 reviews13.4k followers
January 17, 2022
Liczyłam na coś dużo bardziej konkretnego
Profile Image for Cheri.
1,739 reviews2,265 followers
September 7, 2017
"April come she will
When streams are ripe and swelled with rain
May she will stay
Resting in my arms again
June she'll change her tune
In restless walks she'll prowl the night"

--“April Come She Will” lyrics by Paul Simon

"It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times."

Traveling back and forth through time, the past to the present, from Elisabeth’s childhood and meeting her new neighbor Daniel Gluck, to the brink of the political climate that began with Brexit, this story covers a lot of territory in a rather fluid way, dealing with aging, love in its many shapes and forms, friendship, art and artists, books and the telling of stories, the concept of time, music, identity, the culture of television, politics, sexual inequality, division of people, division of countries, and global warming.

When first they meet, Elisabeth pretends to be her (non-existent) twin sister, and after a bit of a chat, Daniel says:
”’Very pleased to meet you both. Finally.’
‘How do you mean, finally?’ Elisabeth said. ‘We only moved here six weeks ago.’
‘The lifelong friends, he said. We sometimes wait a lifetime for them.’”

And lifelong friends is exactly what they will become, the almost-beginning of her life until his becomes dust in the wind, and somehow beyond then. He will always be a part of her, a part of how she sees the world.

They play games; he describes a picture, a collage, to her, as she closes her eyes and listens and her imagination follows every detail of his description, occasionally asking questions. A moment, an image captured so clearly in her mind that it becomes a part of her, of how she sees art, how she sees herself, how she sees the world.

Invariably, his first question when he sees her is what is she reading.

“'Always be reading something,' he said. ‘Even when we’re not physically reading. How else will we read the world?’”

The topics of politics, Brexit and beyond, flows in and out throughout this novel, although there is much to balance that out, and it is not Smith’s sole focus. Rather, it seems to weave in and out of the other topics, lending a time and place to this story. The fleeting nature of these things that occupy of minds and hearts, that our fears take root in, the lack of comfort in knowing that they will be replaced. As shall we.

The elusive nature of time, how slow it seems to pass for children, for those awaiting something wonderful, how quickly it passes the older we get, how quickly a life passes. The seasons, Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter, how quickly they pass, merge one into another. The seasons of life, how quickly they pass.

”We have to hope, Daniel was saying, that the people who love us and who know us a little bit will in the end have seen us truly. In the end, not much else matters.”

”July she will fly
And give no warning to her flight
August die she must
The autumn winds blow chilly and cold
September I remember
A love once new has now grown old”

-- “April Come She Will” lyrics by Paul Simon

Published 07 Feb 2017

Many thanks for the ARC provided by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group / Pantheon
Profile Image for Guille.
755 reviews1,538 followers
June 24, 2021
“¡Los prepucios van y vienen, pero Mozart es eterno!”
Voy a empezar con unas palabras del crítico y escritor José María Guelbenzu que me han parecido muy acertadas y que, cautivado por la novela, de paso, alimentan mi vanidad: «Ali Smith (…) exige al lector que se merezca la lectura».

En efecto, la Ali Smith de “Otoño” es especial, tanto como lo pueda ser la Jenny Offill de “Departamento de especulaciones” o la Cusk de “A contraluz”. Su estilo es fragmentario, impresionista, desordenado, temporal y sentimentalmente, una amalgama de estilos y formas lo suficientemente distante como para que lo poético brille en su justo momento y medida, como para que su humor triste y envenenado nos golpee dónde más nos duele, para que lo imaginativo de sus planteamiento y de su exposición nos seduzca. El texto es hermoso y necesario, merecí la lectura y me enorgullezco de ello. Será que yo también quiero que me saluden preguntando ¿qué estás leyendo?, que me pone triste cuando se va el verano y viene el otoño, que necesito que alguien me muestre que el verano aún sigue ahí.

Me gustó la mezcla de tonos, de historias y detalles, me gustó su libertad y su atrevimiento, su claro y valiente posicionamiento social y político. Me convenció la llamada de atención a las posibilidades que siempre tiene todo relato, como las que ella misma encuentra en una fotografía de Boubat en la que se ve a una niña en un bosque, de espaldas y con un vestido hecho de hojas de otoño, algo precioso pero que al mismo tiempo podría ser terrible si lo que llegamos a ver es el desamparo de una niña pobremente vestida, o un cuerpecito del que se está desprendiendo la piel tras un ataque nuclear, o llegamos a pensar que fue llevada al bosque para… Smith no quiere que sean los otros los que escriban el relato, esos que vuelven a gritar con descaro e impunidad “Por mucho que huyáis, vamos a por vosotros” ante nuestra desidia e indiferencia.

En un collage tan imaginativo, colorista y diverso como los de su admirada Pauline Boty, la Bardot de Wimbledon, una pintora del pop-art de los 60, menospreciada, prematuramente muerta y olvidada, Ali retrata nuestro mundo, al que hemos llegado, al que ella pertenece, tal y como hicieron tantos otros escritores, como su admirado Dickens en el que se inspira la frase que inicia la novela.
“Era el peor de los tiempos, era el peor de los tiempos.”
Una exageración, claro está, nunca ha habido tiempo bueno pues no hay libertad/paz/derechos/justicia/prosperidad si no la disfrutamos todos. Necesitamos alarmas como esta de Ali Smith que nos despierten de tanta indolencia y resignación, necesitamos reaccionar… y rápido.

Necesitan leer esta novela… y rápido.

P.S. Además de a la pintora citada, hay otras dos mujeres en la novela con un papel principal. Chistine Keeler, la chica del escándalo político-sexual del caso Profumo, en cierto sentido la Marilyn británica, utilizada y humillada, para la que su belleza fue una maldición, como quizá también lo fuera, aunque en un sentido muy distinto, para Pauline Boty. La otra mujer solo se cita una vez aunque en mi opinión está presente en toda la novela:
“Thatcher nos enseñó a ser egoístas y no solo a pensar, sino también a creer, que la sociedad no existe.”
Profile Image for Hannah.
591 reviews1,051 followers
November 29, 2017
My thoughts are all over the place for this book – maybe fitting because this is what this book is as well: all over the place. There is undeniable brilliance here: sentences so profound they made me stop in my tracks, word plays so wonderful I had to read them twice, musing on a great number of important things. It comes as no surprise that Ali Smith is a genius. But for some reasons these sparks of brilliance never came together for a coherent whole for me – and I guess this was also the point. There is no proper coherence in life and in art and Ali Smith captures this perfectly.

At the core of this book is the friendship between Elisabeth and her older neighbour Daniel and the profound effect on her life he has – opening to her a world of art and cleverness. This book is also filled with musings on art – especially that by women – and how art is both important and prone to being forgotten.

This relationship somehow did not work for me – I think I would have needed it to be more fleshed out. The wonderful glitzy stylistic framework was not enough for me. Somehow I was lacking an emotional core for this book to really resonate with me. This lack was reinforced by the secondary storyline of Pauline Boty. This could have been so interesting but ultimately fell flat for me. Mostly because I did not have the necessary knowledge to contextualize what Ali Smith was telling me. This feeling of lack of knowledge worked against me multiple times during this book.

I think, ultimately, I might have read the book wrong: I think it would have worked better for me if I had read this in one sitting, allowing myself to be swept up in the stylistic whimsy. This way the book would not have felt disjointed but rather a perfect microscopic view of one single moment in time. This moment being the aftermath of Brexit – which is something that is very close to my heart. I have lived in the UK for 5 years, 4 of those in Scotland and as such I have so many feelings about the UK leaving the EU. Especially because the months leading up to the Referendum were filled with xenophobic and racist discourse and because many people voting for leaving the UK voted for exactly those reasons. I am disappointed in the country I felt so welcome in, a country that is so wonderful and has so much to offer, and I am disappointed that people my age just did not go and vote (how idiotic is that?) and I am sorry for my friends who are still there, both those from the UK and those from abroad. Because this Referendum will change the country and there is no stopping this. (That was a tangent.)

First sentence: “It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times.”
Profile Image for Dianne.
559 reviews906 followers
September 18, 2017
I'm not sure I can do justice to reviewing this or explaining what it is about - I suspect each time it's read, a new layer is revealed and it becomes something quite different. Let me just say the writing and wordplay is superb! Imaginative, perceptive, unexpectedly quite funny in places, and tender in others. I'd say the resounding theme in this book is loss - summer gives way to autumn in the seasons and in our lives, but there is beauty to be found in the journey.

Don't go in to this expecting a plot, at least in not in the traditional sense. It's more like a half-remembered dream with two central characters who weave in and out of each other's lives, reliving their separate memories and experiences against the backdrop of various British touchpoints (the Profumo political scandal, the Pop Art movement, Brexit). Just go with the flow - read it once for the pleasure of the written word, then again to grasp the complexities of the plot threads and the cultural references.

I loved it - I can see why this made the Booker shortlist and is one of the favorites to win.

Thanks for NetGalley and Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group for an ARC of this lovely novel.
Profile Image for Sean Barrs .
1,113 reviews44.4k followers
May 13, 2021
I enjoyed Autumn immensely because of its wit, intelligence and creative charm.

The novel is inventive, playful and clever. It is a book that weaves together ideas and references from a huge number of places, channelling them into a relevant and potent story. The descriptions are masterful in tone and have flourishes of vivid colour, comparable only to the writing of Virginia Woolf. There is also a lot of history that hangs over the book, as a lot of history hangs over the autumn season. There are echoes of Keats and Dickens, of things that have already been said but need to be said again in perhaps a slightly different way.

Words and sentences wash over you in torrents of majestic and palpable prose. It is simple. It is direct. But it is loaded with meaning. And it feels strikingly modernist. It feels like Ali Smith is deliberately pushing the boundaries of storytelling; she attempts to capture the elusive and the vagueness of human experience because there is something that is not quite said or quite established through the work. It even has a dream like quality at times, as memory and the present are intertwined. Whilst she does not quite deconstruct the novel as powerfully as Zadie Smith does in her writing, Ali Smith writes with a same awareness and engagement with early twentieth century writes.

This has been dubbed as the first Brexit novel, though the novel barely touches or engages with it. To reduce it down to such a label is to do the writing here a huge disservice. I do not consider it such. There are far more important things at play here, though I have no doubt that the said label did help the book sell tremendously. For me, it is more of a novel that discusses regret, friendship and the inevitability of death. And it captures much of this through nature imagery, through the different colours of leaves, trees and pages of books. Although it has a melancholy nature, the book is still thoroughly charming because of this.

The most important element here is the creative energy that drives the narrative, and it has been infused with a love of books and ideas. It is passionate. And it is a work that understands and appreciates the importance of the act of reading and, by extension, the act of writing.

I savoured every word.


You can connect with me on social media via My Linktree.
Profile Image for Trish.
1,352 reviews2,412 followers
November 6, 2017
It is November and outside my front door roses are still blooming. Their color is a deep rich clear pink. They look better than they did in the dry heat of summer.

Smith’s first novel in her proposed quartet of volumes is an utter delight. I’d never encountered her voice before but when I got to the end, I looked again at the beginning. Just as well, because I had forgotten that Daniel speaks, briefly, before the story gets picked up by “his granddaughter,” Elisabeth, with an “s.”

What I find queer, now having finished the novel, is why people talk about this as a Brexit novel. It is a novel of our times, told by a smart and savvy observer, but I would have put the emphasis squarely on the exploitation and disregard of women, their work, their point of view. Especially at this moment of lurid sexual scandal with roots supposedly in the 1960’s, “when the ethos was different,” we hear a voice that pierces that veil of ignorance and disregard and looks squarely at the mystery of history. Smith has caught our moment perfectly.

The real beauty of this novel is the heart of the novelist. She sees the hard truths we negotiate every day and does not deny them but looks instead at our vulnerabilities, and how we need one another to perfect our world. The work is something reminiscent of pop art, jazzy and clever but with echoes…instead of a piece of pink lace stuck variously under paint on the canvas, a memory…of children washing up on a beach, or women being pushed and herded onto buses…so slight a mention they are mere shadows.

But then Daniel asks explicitly, the first time they play Bagatelle, “Sure you want war?” before patiently instructing Elisabeth in the importance of diversity of thought: how the idea of ‘threatening’ is not unidirectional and can all be in one’s own mind. Daniel becomes companion, teacher, friend to adolescent Elisabeth, dismissed by Elisabeth’s mother as ‘that old queen.’

What to make of Elisabeth’s mother?

Smith marks time in this novel by describing the physical environment, the state of the roses, the chill in the air, the gossamer filaments of spider webs bearing beads, the color and position of leaves (on the trees, fallen to the ground). It positions us in a shifting timescape, through Daniel’s lifetime, and encapsulating the art of the first (and only?) female pop artist in Britain. Pauline Boty was…dismissed is too intentional a word…ignored during her career as an artist because she was beautiful and female. It makes one want to pair those two descriptors forever, in solidarity.
“And whoever makes up the story makes up the world…So always try to welcome people into the home of your story…”
I felt welcomed into the kindnesses Smith creates in this novel. There is wickedness in the world, and tragedy, but it doesn’t have to define us. We can create a world that turns inexorably, like the seasons, to longer days and more clement weather. And we can find people to love in the most unlikely places. Love is the [only?] thing that makes life worthwhile.

This novel was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2017.
Profile Image for Richard (on hiatus).
160 reviews182 followers
January 27, 2020
Autumn was my first Ali Smith novel and I liked it rather than loved it.
The book concerns the long term relationship between its two central characters, Elisabeth Demand and her elderly neighbour Daniel.
It’s refracted storyline is told through a series of seemingly random scenes, conversations, dreams and imagined incidents. We jump about in time and the effect is often surreal.
I’m still trying to work out how much I actually enjoyed the novel ........
At first the language felt awkward and jagged but after a while it takes on an a certain musicality that’s obviously Ali Smith’s signature style.
I enjoyed the the stuff about art, in particular the work of Pauline Boty (pop art artist) as I did the fragments of old news stories such as The Profumo Affair that pepper the narrative.
However, Smith’s views on British politics and Brexit seemed a bit laboured and mundane, especially after our recent exhausting general election where the arguments on all sides have been grinding on interminably (maybe they seemed fresher in the direct aftermath of the Brexit referendum?)
Ali Smith is also obviously irritated by modern bureaucracy and the state. Her main character is constantly frustrated in post offices, doctor surgeries and care homes. To be honest I found myself siding with the hapless staff as Elisabeth continued to ignore simple instructions, making things unnecessarily difficult. With a lighter touch in a lighter book, these comedic interactions would have been amusing but in Autumn they felt a bit leaden.
There was also much random meandering. Often the strange paths the book would follow were colourful, poignant and profound - and yet often they just felt a bit frustrating and pointless.
The overall tone of the book was pessimistic but with a lovely, arty, experimental sheen. The biggest success of the book was the depiction of the friendship between Elisabeth and Daniel - deep, lifelong and gently moving.
My review feels a bit all over the place, but then so did the book!
Do read it though - It’s a unique reading experience that’s great for discussion ........... and it’s very likely that you will love it more than I did.
Profile Image for William2.
745 reviews2,959 followers
September 22, 2021
Heaps of spine-tingling narrative pleasure. One feels the hairs on one’s nape standing on end while reading. Autumn’s a book about enlightened values versus what we’ve been getting lately from the mobocracy. No need to mention the B word or the T word here. Most things I read, the author’s point of view does not reflect my values, though he or she may come close. Quite the opposite with Autumn. Reading Smith one feels one has met with a very like-minded person. In my broad reading experience, that’s rare. But that's not all. There's also the beautiful story itself which jumps around in time à la Muriel Spark's The Prime of Miss Jean Brody and follows the relationship of an old man and a teenager as they diverge and converge over twenty years or so. As regular babysitter for the girl’s mother, the old man has enlightened his young charge in certain areas of, let’s call it, felicitous thinking. Now he’s 101 and in a hospice. She’s 32, an art history teacher, who comes to read to him as he sleeps. The book is full of surprises. There were perhaps one or two bits of experimentation I didn't like, neither was I amused by the puns, but these are quibbles. A brilliant kind of frenetic story telling. Read it.
Profile Image for Andy Marr.
Author 2 books708 followers
March 12, 2022
Autumn *****
Winter *****
Spring ****
Summer *****

I have no idea what just happened to me. I thought I would hate this book. I thought I should read it, because it was nominated for that thing, but, yeah I was sure I'd hate it. And I did. That first chapter? Very strange. I'm going to hate it, I thought. But then I turned the page, and then I turned another, and another, and then, oh! I laughed out loud. That first LOL? Very strange. I read a few pages more, and my hand reached out to my chest. By page 20, I was hooked and that was strange but there it was, that humility, that beauty, that originality. All beautiful. All powerful. All incredible.

It was incomprehensible.

And yet...

I thought I would hate this book.

It blew my mind.
Profile Image for Dolors.
527 reviews2,207 followers
December 24, 2020
I am afraid much of this abstract work went way over my head. The subversive criticism of post-truth politics in a new era of mass media, the half-comic, half-indignant sketches of our senseless bureaucratic system, the sadly recurrent reality of female artists neglected again and again in a world ruled by men.
Smith’s creates a collage with such weighty subjects and uses it to paint the backdrop of Elisabeth and Daniel’s story while traveling back and forth in time.

The perception of time is precisely what will stay with me of this story, maybe in a similar way than Woolf’s “To the lighthouse” did. Inexorably, like a punch in the stomach, with a kind of poetic melancholy that soothes and bruises all at once. Seasons pass, leaves fall, autumn sets in, the sunset of a life allows the sunrise of another.

I will also remember the finely painted portrait of Elisabeth and David’s platonic love.
Elisabeth is about 70 years younger than Daniel, but they stubbornly stick to each other, influencing their lives in ways that defy the standard views. Daniel finds eternity, Elisabeth meaning and purpose, and both walk in parallel paths where physical distance means nothing, speaking to each other through years, relationships and illnesses, mere white noise in comparison to the inner voice that bounds them together.

Smith’s prose moves in rhythmic waves of concentric intensity. All her conjectural digressions converge into Daniel and Elisabeth’s relationship, which becomes the core that sustains what otherwise would be a structureless castle of blank proclamations.
Love is what remains in the end after everything else vanishes, as it will inevitably happen to all of us, abruptly, with no warning; so let’s love generously to defy the vertigo of an empty page at the end of our journey, let’s love and let’s share and let’s read out loud to defeat silence and darkness. Like Elisabeth does, as I’d like to do when the time comes.

I received an ARC via Netgalley in exchange of an honest review."
Profile Image for Paul.
1,178 reviews1,935 followers
October 8, 2017
This is not only the first of four novels based on the seasons, but it has also been acclaimed as the first Brexit novel. This makes it very British in some ways and the feelings in the country and the reactions to the vote form part of the novel, as in this much quoted piece:
“All across the country, there was misery and rejoicing. All across the country, what had happened whipped about by itself as if a live electric wire had snapped off a pylon in a storm and was whipping about in the air above the trees, the roofs, the traffic. 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.”
With this backdrop the novel moves easily over the last hundred years through its main characters. Daniel Gluck is a century old, Jewish and in a care home. Elisabeth was born in 1984; during her childhood in the 1990s she lived next to Daniel Gluck and a friendship developed; they are kindred spirits and Daniel helps Elisabeth think in new ways. One of the ways he does this is through art and in particular the art of Pauline Boty, a little known 1960s artist and her art is woven through the book.
The novel is well written and constructed and flits between vignettes and scenes some of which are very pertinent, some amusing, others very sad. The scenes in the post office when Elisabeth is trying to renew her passport are straight out of Monty Python. It feels very current and there are reflections on recent events and the nature of social media. This on the murder of the MP Jo Cox;
“Someone killed an MP,” she tells him. “A man shot her dead and came at her with a knife. Like shooting her wouldn’t be enough. But it’s old news now. Once it would have been a year’s worth of news. But news right now is like a flock of speeded-up sheep running off the side of a cliff.”
Elisabeth reflects that in her situation as a part time lecturer she has little hope of buying a house, very little money and no job security. She also talks about her students, “graduating with all that debt and a future in the past.” Her mother meanwhile has been on a popular TV antiques programme and has met another woman of a similar age and started a relationship. The part where Elisabeth walks in on them kissing is hilarious.
The novel is powerfully propelled by the narrative voice and despite covering a broad range of topics like art, politics, feminism, literature, the nature of memory, prejudice and Brexit (of course), it is never hard to read. It is a reflection on who we are and what we are made of, As Deborah Levy says:
“Transcendental writing about art, death, political lies, trees and all the dimensions of love.”
And I love the occasional rants:
“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 anger. I'm tired of the meanness. I'm tired of 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 that's on it's 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 anymore. I'm tired of being made to feel this fearful.”
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,049 followers
August 1, 2017
I was going to save this to read in the autumn, but then it was included in the Man Booker Prize Long List so I moved it up.

This is described as a post-Brexit novel, and it does take place in that world and mentions it a few times in a few different ways, but more in the way that all of us continue in the world as it changes around us.
"...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 government. 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.

I don't think that's actually a word, Elisabeth says.

I'm tired of not knowing the right words, her mother says."
The central story, at least for me, is the love story of sorts between Elisabeth and her elderly neighbor, Daniel. We see them in many different iterations, during her childhood (where her mother wanted her to stay away from him) through her adulthood when she is his only visitor while he is unconscious in a hospital. He encourages her to be a reader, to use her imagination, to think.
"We have to hope, Daniel was saying, that the people who love us and who know us a little bit will in the end have seen us truly. In the end, not much else matters."
There is an art storyline too, about the sole female UK pop artist Pauline Boty, who turns out to be a real person (see here.

But what Ali Smith always does that moves every book by her from four stars to five is in the writing. It is at times stream of consciousness, at times poetic, at times sparse, at times incredibly moving. I enjoyed reading it and feel like I barely scratched the surface in the first time through.
Profile Image for Lark Benobi.
Author 1 book1,838 followers
January 30, 2019
The novel seems to want to present me with all the sadness in the world, and all the bleakness of recent history, and it seemed determined to remind me of all the meannesses that people can heap upon one another (some of it through neglect) (some of it through evil acts)--and yet even as the novel forced me to face these things, at its center was a beautiful hope. The novel is a paean to the power of language, and to the mystery of human interaction, and to the way small daily gestures of kindness can reverberate and magnify upon themselves across the years.

I think that's what it was about, anyway. That's what it was about for me, today. More than most novels, this novel felt like a dialog, where I was part of the creation of story, and where the feelings an image or a scene gave to me, however personal, were being acknowledged and even invited in by the text.

It left me feeling sad, and it left me also feeling very much in love with my own family, somehow. I felt more appreciation for all that is idiosyncratic and flawed, and f0r those who try to think new thoughts rather than just going along with what everyone else thinks.
Profile Image for Seemita.
180 reviews1,583 followers
March 5, 2017
[A formidable 3.5]

[Originally appeared here: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/li...]

She has done it in the past; and she does it again here. Ali Smith’s fixation on, and a visible mastery of, story-telling across timeline, in no particular order, shines in this experimental, breezy novel as well.

Centred around the 30-something Elisabeth Demand and her centenarian friend, Daniel Gluck, Autumn is a long, vibrant, occasionally melancholic, sometimes acerbic but entirely warming season of their friendship. Elisabeth, with a ‘s’, is a history of art professor, whose interest was originally kindled in the subject she currently teaches, by the liberal hours she had spent with Daniel, her then-babysitter. As a genial neighbour to Elisabeth’s busy mother, he had agreed to be her caretaker, and in turn, had relished the artistic discourse with the little Ms. Demand. Fast forward a good twenty plus years and Daniel is now a patient in a day care, under the constant vigil of nurses and in wait of, perhaps, the same palliative cacophony of Elisabeth’s inquisitive murmur.

Throwing light on the two personalities and what edification the many seasons of life imparts, the chapters run forward and backward on the tenuous thread of time. Smith shapes her Elisabeth with a smart countenance, boisterous wit, wry humour and banal gloom.
The man creases up. It seems he was joking; his shoulders go up and down but no sound comes out of him. It's like laughter, but also like a parody of laughter, and simultaneously a bit like he's having an asthma attack. May be you're not allowed to laugh out loud behind the counter of the main Post Office.
Whether it is the ridiculous bureaucratic hurdles she encounters in her efforts to secure a passport or the disdain she receives at her rebellious choice of thesising on Pauline Boty,Elisabeth comes across as a feisty heroine who is subdued by the autumnal phase of her friend and the dried momentum of her own life. Amidst random allusion to political upheavals in Europe (read Brexit) and the millennium bug, it is the generous badinage between the two key characters that bring this work to life. Velvets of sentiment and pun run through the pages, making Elisabeth’s first person narrative as effective as Daniel’s reticent third person narrative.

At once, hilarious, stimulating, querulous and refreshing, this is Smith’s frolicking side at play, without losing the sight of her trademark percipience. Winter, I await.

[Note: Thanks to Netgalley, Ali Smith and Penguin Books (UK) for providing me an ARC.]
Profile Image for Lori.
358 reviews425 followers
January 29, 2022
I don’t like it when the summer goes and the autumn comes, she said.

She looked up at him showing her how the summer was still there. Nobody spoke like Daniel. Nobody didn’t speak like Daniel.


I don't need to say much, this book is familiar to so many. Brexit, art, scandal, friendship, history, leaves, prejudice, love, fake news, wisdom, reality tv, hate, creativity, unhappiness, care, killing, the power of story, the power of learning and of joy: a world in this book, the world in it. Given the material it may sound depressing but it wasn't at all. I loved it: the writing, the content, the characters, especially Daniel.

I'm reading Winter now, it's a very different story and halfway through, though a piece of art he loves is in it he's not yet, that I can discern: yet. I don't see where he'll fit in but Ali Smith writes things you don't see coming. Half a book then two more seasons: if not now, in Spring or Summer. I expect more Daniel, want more Daniel, crave more Daniel.


Sometimes, I've noticed, people put soundtracks in their reviews. I don't often think of songs as I read, but I did reading Autumn: When Doves Cry. Scaled up. And though I can always hear it in my head I listened a few times, eyes closed.

...in that one passing incident was a fraction of something volcanic.

...Elisabeth skims the day’s paper on her phone to catch up on the usual huge changes there’ve been in the last half hour.


This is what it sounds like when doves cry
Darling, don't cry
Profile Image for Matt Quann.
628 reviews383 followers
January 27, 2018
I finished this novel a few days ago, but put off the review. To speak quite frankly, I think Autumn is a novel that is a touch too smart for me to properly wrap my head around. Smith's prose flips, twists, jumps, and skitters across the page with vivacity and wit, but also left me feeling overwhelmed with stylistic experimentation. So, I turned to interviews with Smith and reviews others have written to better understand what I had just read.

It isn't simply the writing that left me confused, but the real and imagined proceedings of the book with which I was unfamiliar. The knee-jerk is for me to write that these are a group of interlaced stories, but they are more a paint-splatter on canvas. The Profumo affair? I was entirely oblivious to this prior to my reading, but it is frequently referenced during the proceedings. Similarly, pop-art phenom Pauline Boty's work and life are used as touchstones throughout the book.

Pauline Boty's Scandal '63

I realize that my earlier statements may reflect poorly on Smith's writing, which was jarring, but not unpleasant. Certainly, some of the experimentation with page, spacing, and repetition seem more like poetry than prose to me. However, there were many bits of wordplay and colourful dialogue that helped to enliven the proceedings. This is an exceptionally witty book and it offers no moment for one to collect one's proverbial breath before setting into another dense packet of athletic word-smithing.

My favourite bits are those that stayed focused on Elisabeth and Daniel's relationship. Elisabeth is a young girl when she first meets her aged neighbour and begins a lifelong friendship for the both of them. The book flips and flops between Daniel's delirium in hospital and he and Elisabeth's formative relationship. The friendship here, between the young and the old, is too often left to the wayside in literature and made for the novel's best scenes. That Smith is both able to drive home philosophical musings entwined with a terrific platonic love story speaks to her skill.

In my post-novel readings, I discovered that Smith wrote this novel in a fury following Brexit last year. Indeed, the book has a bit of that feeling: one rushed in response to an unpleasant change in UK politics. The parts about Brexit are affecting, and they never felt too preachy to me. Smith is for the most part objective, choosing instead to use Elisabeth and Daniel's discussions to teach about provisional truth and then forcing the reader to make their own judgements.

The novel is spotty, but works as a fine introduction to Smith. I may not have gotten all the references--reading A Tale of Two Cities seems to have been an unspoken prerequisite--but I appreciated enough of the book. Despite its small package, it's boiling over with ideas. To my taste, I'd prefer a book that distilled its ideas more effectively. Autumn often feels more like a shotgun blast than a precision shot. I wish I could understand why Boty's work ties in with Brexit and an intergenerational relationship, but I didn't.

I'll be sure to try my luck again with Winter early next year. Hopefully I'll be better suited for the task!
Profile Image for Roger Brunyate.
946 reviews637 followers
January 9, 2018

Every Story Tells a Picture

At the heart of Ali Smith's seemingly chaotic but actually tightly-organized new novel is a love relationship, between a thirtyish art lecturer, Elisabeth Demand, and a 101-year-old man, Daniel Gluck. Their love was born over two decades earlier, when Elisabeth's mother roped in her elderly neighbor to look after her daughter. And what a baby-sitter Daniel turns out to be: playful, irreverent, respectful, and always intellectually challenging! One afternoon, he offers Elisabeth the choice of two games, either "Every Picture Tells a Story" or "Every Story Tells a Picture." She chooses the former, and he begins to conjure images out of the air, describing them in words, eliciting her wondering reactions:
    The background is rich dark blue, Daniel said. A blue much darker than the sky. On top of the dark blue, in the middle of the picture, there's a shape made of pale paper that looks like a round full moon. On top of the moon, bigger than the moon, there's a cut-out black and white lady wearing a swimsuit, cut from a newspaper or fashion magazine. And next to her, as if she's leaning against it, there's a giant human hand. And the giant hand is holding inside it a tiny hand, a baby's hand. More truthfully, the baby's hand is also holding the big hand, holding it by its thumb. Below all this, there's a stylized picture of a woman's face, the same face repeated several times, but with a different coloured curl of real hair hanging over its nose each time— […]
Ali Smith herself is of course playing the opposite game, for her stories lead in the end to pictures, real pictures by a female artist of the nineteen-sixties who was briefly famous, then forgotten, then recently rediscovered. But, as she did in her previous novel, How To Be Both, Smith conceals the painter's name until halfway through the book. I shall do the same, giving details and showing some of her work only in my second section, which I shall mark off as a spoiler. It is not that Smith is playing a guessing game—I had never heard of the artist, and I was an art history student myself at the time—but that the author's medium is words. Typing out the excerpt above, I had a small reproduction of the painting itself by my side. They do different things. The painting makes an immediate impact, after which you begin to look for the detail. But Daniel starts with the detail, which is to say with the meaning behind the picture. Describing it to a child, he becomes a kind of magician, conjuring rabbit images which chase one another in her mind. Much later we realize that he is also conjuring the woman who selected these images, casting us back to that brief early-sixties period when the postwar winter was turning to spring.

Smith long ago gave up telling stories in linear fashion, and this book pays scant heed to the conventions of prose narrative. Far better to think of her as a poet, and accept her images, literal or dreamlike, for whatever pattern the eventually leave in your mind. She starts with Daniel on a beach, surreal, evocative, death or merely a dream. Then Elisabeth struggling with petty officialdom in a post office penned by Kafka—only this is 2016. From there we jump characters and decades, back and forth, until the novel finally casts anchor in the first of those magical adult-child encounters with which I started. Their relationship deepens steadily over the rest of the book, as does our view of the almost-forgotten artist, but we are left to fill in the back-stories of the two principals ourselves. For Daniel, there are hints of a Holocaust background and a career as a songwriter; for Elisabeth, various scenes with her rather vapid mother, and hints of a ten-year hiatus in her life that is never explained. Those who expect plot threads to be neatly tied up should probably not even start, though I personally find something very moving in Smith's deliberate incompleteness.

Why the title, Autumn? It is intended to be the first of four thematically-connected novels, that much I know. But I'm not sure I would have thought of this season otherwise. It is true that Daniel's long life is clearly ebbing to is close. It is true that the act of looking back at an earlier age (roughly the year of the author's birth) can bring on an autumnal nostalgia. And towards the end of the novel there are passages that are clearly set at the year's end, one of which I shall quote in a moment for its beauty. But the real change in Smith's England is not a transition, but a fracture; this is surely the first post-Brexit novel:
    All across the country, there was misery and rejoicing. […] 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 unsafe. All across the country, people were laughing their heads off. All across the country, people felt legitimized. All across the country, people felt bereaved and shocked.
Any reference you may detect, here and elsewhere, to the famous opening of A Tale of Two Cities is deliberate; it is the book that Elisabeth reads when she visits Daniel. At another time, she brings Brave New World, whose dystopia is reflected in a modern England of security cameras and electrified fences. But Smith does not forget the origin of that title, Miranda's cry of innocent wonder in The Tempest. One other book Elisabeth has with her, clearly a talisman of Daniel's also, is Ovid's Metamorphoses, which relates even the most cataclysmic of changes to the age-old processes of the natural world. And Ali Smith's own writing reflects this too:
    November again. It's more winter than autumn. That's not mist. It's fog.
    The sycamore seeds hit the glass in the wind like—no, not like anything else, like sycamore seeds hitting window glass.
    There've been a couple of windy nights. The leaves are stuck to the ground with the wet. The ones on the paving are yellow and rotting, wanwood, leafmeal. One is so stuck that when it eventually peels away, its leafshape left behind, shadow of a leaf, will last on the pavement till next spring.
+ + + + + +

HISTORICAL POSTSCRIPT. The following section says a little more about the artist in the background of the book, shows a few of her paintings, and footnotes a couple of other real people mentioned in the text. Of course, you could always Google this information for yourself as you come to it in your reading.


My Top Ten list this year is selected from a smaller than usual pool. I really only started reading again in May, and even then deliberately kept new books to under 50% of my total. In compiling the list, I also did not exactly follow mu original star ratings, but rather the takeaway value after time has passed. In particular, there are two books, Lincoln in the Bardo and Go, Went, Gone) to which I gave only 4 stars, but which I recognize as important books, with more staying power than many that I enjoyed more at the time, but have since forgotten.

For some reason, three of the ten books (Forest Dark, A Horse Walks into a Bar, and Three Floors Up) are by Jewish authors, set in Israel. To those, I would add a fourth: Judas by Amos Oz, read at the same time and of similar quality, but actually published at the end of 2016.

The ten titles below are in descending order (i.e. with The Essex Serpent being my favorite). The links are to my reviews:

1. The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
2. Autumn by Ali Smith
3. Forest Dark by Nicole Krauss
4. The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne
5. Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor
6. A Horse Walks into a Bar by David Grossman
7. Exit West by Moshin Hamid
8. Three Floors Up by Eshkol Nevo
9. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
10. Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck

And half that number again that didn't quite make it, in alphabetical order by authors:

11. Souvenirs dormants by Patrick Modiano
12. All We Shall Know by Donal Ryan
13. Improvement by Joan Silber
14. Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout
15. Rose & Poe by Jack Todd
Profile Image for MJ Nicholls.
2,022 reviews4,067 followers
November 20, 2016
Ali Smith is a prolific story writer, critic, and playwright, but her novels alone have blasted her into the mesosphere of critical adulation, and this first part of an exciting seasonal quartet furthers her familiar brand of humorous, gentle, playful, and bedazzling brilliance. Timehopping across the century, the novel focuses on the adopted father relationship between an art lecturer and an enigmatic former dancer, lyricist, and sixties art scenester. Featuring another of Smith’s precocious youngsters (her affinity for these quick-witted pre-teens is evident in other novels like There but for the) and word-loving oddballs, the novel takes a melancholic look at the present political tangles of 2016, reflects on the legacy of British pop-artist Pauline Boty, and muses on the place of storytelling and fabrication in a post-truth (OED word of 2016!) era. Among numerous other charming tangents and tangles. This is a delightful concoction and evocative of the titular season. A beautiful novel of ideas and passions, featuring beautiful characters full of ideas and passions.
Profile Image for Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader.
2,121 reviews30.2k followers
October 21, 2021
I WISH I could have “gotten” this book. I invested in the entire series hoping I would. My belief that I’m a super flexible, accepting reader has certainly been challenged this year between Autumn and No One Is Talking About This.

I read the reviews about the impressionistic writing and going with the flow. I tried my best, but I found myself wanting to skip sentences, sections, then entire pages, and that frustrates this reader because I kept thinking I could be reading something else where I hang on every word. I think more than anything it’s because my favorite style of writing is not the descriptive, but the precise. My English degreed dad, with his own love for reading, would give me that feedback time and again about writing and also give examples of the books he loved most. And this writing? It’s the total opposite of precise, which is completely ok, but I’m realizing not the best fit for me. I didn’t mind the nonlinearity of the story. It wasn’t that. It was all the “extra” random thoughts, laundry lists of odd words? The quirkiness of it?

I also like to believe my analytical nature can grasp new concepts and make them work for me, but this felt over my head, and I didn’t like that feeling either. 😂 Most of the time I was just looking for more from the two main characters, and while their story interested me, I realize now it wasn’t really about them.

Thanks to Beth for reading this with me. The jury is out on whether I will read Winter, but since I own it, you never know. Several of my trusted friends have loved this book and the series, so please check out their reviews. As you all know, I rarely have this reaction to a book and would typically put it aside early when I don’t click with it.

Many of my reviews can also be found on my blog: www.Jennifertarheelreader.com and instagram: www.instagram.com/tarheelreader
Displaying 1 - 30 of 6,424 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.