Autumn – Ali Smith

Autumn is Ali Smith’s response to Brexit. Clearly, she disagrees with the majority of the British’s decision to leave the European Union as demonstrated by the flow of the story. But what is unique about her story as opposed to Brexit literature is her approach to her story and her interpretation of this political event.

As is understood by the title, Autumn is the seasonal time of change. So is Brexit. The social division is distressing and the future is uncertain. The intervening time is the hardest to pass. Here, Smith focuses on candour and hope instead of irony and cynicism. Autumn is also the time of fall when leaves mingle with the earth, leaving the trees bear. But to Smith, “the flowers are still coming. The hedgerows are still humming. The shed is already full of apples and the trees still covered in them”. She is optimistic and she keeps hope alive through her story: “But there are roses, there are still roses. In the damp and the cold, on a bush that looks done, there’s a wide-open rose still”. Despite the fragile position that Brexit has placed England, Ali Smith voices hope for a better stable future for England.

Smith’s reading of Brexit is quite interesting. She views it as an episode of an ongoing political drama. She draws readers’ attention to World War II and a 1963 political scandal and demonstrates how the political wind blows when governments find themselves placed in unfavourable positions. She also exhibits the unsatisfactory reaction of the media and society in the face of adversity: “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…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”.

Finally, what I enjoyed the most was the relationship between the 101-year-old Daniel Gluck and 32-year-old Elisabeth Demand. I interpreted their relationship as similar to that between England and the European Union. Daniel lies in a coma in his care home while Elisabeth regularly visits him. He had been her neighbour since the age of eight. The dying Daniel represents the present critical situation of England following Brexit, and Elisabeth represents the European Union which allowed a leeway for Britain’s smooth exit from the Union.

Autumn was a beautifully written thought-provoking novel. I first listened to an audio which was not the right mode to read a story like this. I then read the Kindle edition which made me see the story from quite a different perspective. It was a story and it was also an allegory. I enjoyed the story and her experimental approach. And I was also touched by her candour and sincerity. Autumn is a great introduction to an author who I wish to further explore.

Rating: 4/5

About the author

Piyangie Jay Ediriwickrema is an Attorney-at-Law by profession. Her devotion to literature has taken shape in reading and reviewing books of various genres set in different periods of time. She dabs at a little poetry and fiction of her own and hopes to share her work with the readers in the future.