“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.”
Autumn is a novel that travels back and forward in time to tell the story of Elisabeth (a 32 year old art history lecturer) and her next-door neighbour from childhood, David Gluck, who is over 100 years old. Through flashbacks we learn about their past experiences and how they became friends, while in the present Elisabeth visits Daniel at the care home he now resides. The whole story is tied together through moments in recent political history and references to art, in particular the life and work of Pauline Boty (the only female representative artist in British Pop Art).
The book is told in short backstories to give us a glimpse into the psyches of Daniel and Elisabeth. While others around them (notably Elisabeth’s mum) cannot understand what a young girl would have in common with an old man, their unlikely friendship enables the other to see the world through a different lens.
Hailed as one of the first post-Brexit novels from 2016, it felt slightly anticlimactic reading this novel in 2021 now that there are much more pressing matters than Brexit on our minds. Perhaps if I had read it when it came out the context would have had more relevance.
I’m not sure what I was expecting from this book, but I can’t help but feel slightly underwhelmed. The writing structurally was very interesting and I enjoyed reading about the dynamic between Daniel Gluck and Elisabeth, but I can’t say it lived up to the hype for me personally. That being said, I’ll probably still read the rest of the series because I do appreciate the detail captured in Smith’s writing and I’m drawn to the idea of reading each book seasonally.
If you have read the quartet, let me know which of them was your favourite!