Review: Autumn – Ali Smith

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Rating – 5*

Ali Smith will forever be one of my favourite authors, this book has only emphasised that. I don’t think I can be coherent when it comes to Ali’s books, all my thoughts just jumble and make no sense whatsoever. Her writing is incredible and resonates with me in a way I can’t explain.

Autumn is a novel which is so present and I can only wish I read it when I first bought it – when it was even more recent. Just, how exactly it was possible for Ali Smith to create a full, rich novel involving Britain after Brexit in exactly the time it was taking place I don’t know. But it’s amazing.

This book, in it’s most basic form, is the story of a deep friendship between a young girl – Elisabeth – and an old man – Daniel. The story is told nearly entirely in the form of flashbacks. Stories within stories. Stories about race and identity, stories about art, feminism, sexuality, women, mothers sisters. Stories about a pop artist named Pauline Boty. Yet, ultimately it is the relationship between Elisabeth and Daniel told through all these stories.

As expected with Ali Smith, it is beautifully written. It manages to be both thought provoking and hilarious, sad and happy. It made me think, it made me laugh, there were nods to so many other books, to art, it’s so layered I think every time I read this (because I will re-read it, it’s Ali Smith) I will find new things, new layers to the story and that is something I find pretty damn exciting, and something which will make me want to reread this book.

This year is off to a very good start on the reading front. It seems the books I had hoped to read in the last quarter of the year have so far been amazing, and it makes me glad I took a break from reading if only to enjoy them properly.

UEA Literary Festival: Ali Smith

20150318_180338877_iOSFor anyone who doesn’t know, I’m a student at the University of East Anglia. I’m from Norwich, I still live with my parents and the reason I didn’t move away is that Norwich has everything you could ever wish for in a city. Including, but not limited to, it being named as the first UNESCO City of Literature. The university itself has produced some amazing authors, including Ian McEwan, John Boyne and more recently, Emma Healey. Kazuo Ishaguro did an MA at UEA and the likes of Margaret Atwood and Ali Smith herself have done stints as visiting professors. I shared a lift with Margaret Atwood once (that’s a different, more awkward, story entirely) and, quite awesomely, she was in the lecture theatre on Wednesday night listening to Ali among the masses of us. It was like a double fangirl experience!

And the fact is, I’m still fangirling 2 days on. I still can’t quite get over it. I’m never going to be a girl who enjoys gigs (I love music, but seeing it live doesn’t particularly interest me, unpopular opinion there!) and movies aren’t really my thing but seeing an author, meeting her, having a conversation with her… it feels a lot more personal. Something she created connected with me on a personal level and that’s a really powerful thing.

The “in conversation” section of the evening was just my cup of tea. Listening to her read from How to be Both was just a different reading experience entirely; an audiobook is good but having the author read from a book, in the way they hear the characters in their head, at the pace they intended just adds different depth to what was already an amazing book. I want to reread it already and, if she herself read the audiobook I would buy it! I really wish I had recorded it because she spoke about so many things; art, inspiration, learning and the controversial topic of book-culling… so many things that just hit so many different parts of my mind with fresh insight. I’ve been in a slump lately, generally and reading, Wednesday night just… gave me new inspiration.

20150318_211414384_iOSObviously I then went to a book signing (and bought the two remaining books of hers that I didn’t own. It’s so hard to find them on the highstreet, a book signing in which they have her entire bibliography is prime opportunity to complete a collection!) I was torn as to which books to take to get signed; I asked the manager of my local Waterstones at the last minute on Instagram and he just said take all of them. I managed to get it down to two: my battered, very well loved & read, ex-library edition of Girl Meets Boy and How to be Both, though I had my entire collection (shown above) in my bag and I didn’t make my mind up until I was in the queue. She was lovely, I could have asked her to sign them all and she would have but I didn’t want to be that annoying bitch in the queue who held everyone up! Serious fangirl problems there! But I narrowed it down to 2 books that meant something and I’m happy with my outcome because Girl Meets Boy is one of my favourite books and she loved how battered & loved it was; I was just embarrassed.

If anyone has the opportunity to listen to her speak, or read, or anything grab it with both hands because she’s just so insightful. If you haven’t read any of her work, try it. Just give it a go because she is just so… lovely, her writing is something special and I still think she has been unfairly robbed of the Man Booker all 3 times she’s been shortlisted.

I hope that the university keep running the Literary Festival. It’s now run for 3 years, I wish I’d been to events sooner (I missed out on tickets for Atwood last year. Her event was on the day I shared a lift with her and did that awkward smiling thing you do in a too-small lift. It wasn’t until I left the lift I realised who she was. Awkward. I missed out on so much because I didn’t realise who I was in a lift with; imagine the things I actually COULD have discussed in that 50 seconds it took to get from floor 0 to floor 3?!)

Anyway, keep an eye out for Ali Smith where you are. She’s awesome. Pick up her books, they’re awesome. & I have to thank the UEA for offering these events because it was just awesome and really nice to be surrounded by people who love literature as much as I do (even though I was sat behind my old head teacher and in front of my old GP; I was there first and they sandwiched me! That was more awkward than the Lift with Atwood.)