Monday, November 19, 2018

Autumn by Ali Smith

Elisabeth grows up a lonely child.  Raised by a distracted and at times neglectful single mother and having little in common with most children, Elisabeth spends most of her time alone.  That is, until she meets her neighbor, an older gentleman named Daniel Gluck.  Daniel is literate and witty and knows things about the world that her mother would never think of wanting to know.  Her mother isn't sure about him but comes to depend on him as single mothers do with those near to them that are willing to help.

Despite an age gap of seven decades, Elisabeth soon finds Daniel to be one of the central figures of her life, giving her things to consider and think about she had never imagined and opening her life.  Daniel loves art and literature and music and he exposes Elisabeth to all of that.  In particular, he loves the work of a sixties female artist named Pauline Boty and that is the subject that Elisabeth eventually chooses as her doctorate dissertation. 

The novel picks up again when Elisabeth is 32 and Daniel is 101 and living in a care facility.  Elisabeth goes to see him regularly although he is in a type of coma and only sleeps while she is there.  She still goes regularly, reading aloud to him and reminiscing about their time together.  She is now a part-time art lecturer and is trying to form a closer relationship with her mother.  She uses her time sitting with Daniel to think about her life and put it into a form she can understand.

This is the first of an anticipated four book sequence.  The form is loose, like the ramblings of a mind left to ponder things in unguarded moments.  Along the way, Smith talks about how she finds the world or at least her corner of it, after Brexit, with a government who doesn't seem to care about its people, about how art can speak to us when we are straining for connection.  It was nominated for Best Book Of The Year by such publications as The New York Times, Kirkus Reviews, The Guardian, NPR, and The Washington Post.  This book is recommended for readers willing to think about what their lives mean and readers of literary fiction.

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