There are good books and there are good books, and all good books are similar, only really good books are good their own particular way. Take for example 'Autumn by Ali Smith who opens her novel with “it was the worst of times, it was the worst of times," which puts us straight in Dickens' opening line of 'A tale of two cities' : “it was the best of times it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom it was the age of foolishness...”
Ali Smith felt it was time to write about time, how we experience time, how time flies when we're having fun. In short what is time?
Autumn is the first in a four part series all aptly named after a season. Winter was recently published and we are waiting for Summer and Spring.
Autumn is also the first post-Brexit novel which makes the book very up to date and totally contemporary, while at the same time Smith manages to evoke images of near future science fiction horrors, like when the man in the booth decides her head is the wrong size. The woman protests. "This isn't fiction," he says. "This is the Post Office".
The story starts in an unknown time. Somebody wakes up from death and finds himself lying on a beach. Is this death or am I not dead? The man wonders. The story jumps back and forth in time, there is an 101 year old man, Daniel Gluck, almost dead or artificially alive, and there is a young woman, Elizabeth Demand, who applies for a new passport, only to be told that her head is the wrong size. In the Maltings Care Providers plc Elisabeth reads to the comatose centenarian from Brave New World. Although there is an age difference between them of 69 years they are friends, they love each other. 'O, not in thát way,' Elisabeth had to explain to a jealous lover, 'but it was love all the same.'
Gradually, as time passes, as we move forward and backward in time, we learn of the nature of the relationship between Elisabeth Demand and Daniel Gluck, who, by the way, is not gay. He's European, as the thirteen year old Elisabeth explained to her mother.
A fair portion of the book deals with Pauline Boty who was England's first pop artist and whose work Elisabeth is now studying. And then there is a tune under a supermarket commercial that was composed by the dying, living centenarian European art loving Daniel Gluck.
As you read the book you find yourself on Google all the time. You read up on Keats whose last poem was called On Autumn, on Dickens, Brave New World, Christine Keeler, Pauline Boty and the disappearance of her work Scandal 63.
A wonderful book, I read it, cherished it and moved on: I am now in the middle of Winter.
Ook in het Nederlands verkrijgbaar: Herfst / Ali SMith / Prometheus / € 19,95