Daily Archives: January 8, 2021

Autumn by Ali Smith

Autumn by Ali Smith

Title: Autumn
Author: Ali Smith
Publisher: Anchor Books 
ISBN: 9781101969946
Genre: Literary Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 260
Source: Publisher 
Rating: 5/5

This was a reread for me this year. I had almost forgotten how brilliant this book is, and it is not just about the word-games or the wordplay that Smith uses to her advantage. It is also not about the latent humour that springs itself on you every five pages or so. It is about the writing. The hard-to-contain, the kind of writing that is not limited only to words, the kind of writing that makes you sit up and want to devour the book in one sitting. Autumn for me, is that kind of a book. The book that I will reread perhaps once more before this year ends. 

Autumn by Ali Smith is the first in a quartet. The season quartet as it is called. Autumn is the season of mists, of melancholy, of trees shedding leaves, of changing colours, of perhaps to see clearly, and make peace with the fact that life isn’t stationary. Autumn by Ali Smith is all of this and more. It is called “the Brexit novel”, but to me it is so much more. A lot more. Autumn is about friendship, love, art, identity, forgetfulness, ageing, of how much the world means to us, and how much we perhaps leave behind. 

It is essentially the story of Elisabeth, and her next-door neighbour Daniel Gluck, about 70 years her senior. The friendship that started when she was but a little girl, who is now a woman in her early 30s, and he is centenarian. She goes to meet him at the home for the aged. She reads to him. Constantly reading to him. There is a lot of back and forth between the present and the past in the book, which worked for me through and through. Elisabeth and Daniel’s relationship is charted through the years, of what he teaches her about art, beauty, and the nature of living. Of how she takes it all in. Of the unspoken beauty of friendship, that doesn’t come with any condition of age or time or wisdom. It just is. 

Autumn is energetic, brimming with wordplay, there is so much to it – the layers just keep peeling – perhaps also with every reread. It is also the story of Christine Keeler, of the Profumo fame, and how art plays a role in all of it. It is the story of how we function as humans. Ali Smith’s writing is perfect as far as I am concerned. No phrase or sentence is out of place, or not needed. Everything makes sense and sometimes nothing does. But that’s the beauty of her writing. You read. You pause. You savour what she serves, and you right back for a reread. I for one, cannot wait to now read Winter.

There There by Tommy Orange

There There by Tommy Orange

Title: There There
Author: Tommy Orange
Publisher: Vintage 
ISBN: 9780525436140
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

There’s so much happening in There There, but not once did it feel overwhelming or confusing. I could understand each character, their motivations, and the plot as well, right till the end when it all unravels. Actually., it starts unravelling quite early on. As early on as the third chapter or so.

There There (title referring to a quote by Gertrude Stein, which is out of context, but works here) by Tommy Orange is not only important because of the socio-political issues it raises or the ones that are deep-rooted in the novel. It is also important because it is written so well and needs to be read widely. There are 12 characters whose lives are interwoven. They are all Native Americans, living or have lived in Oakland, California. They are all dealing with identity issues, and want to make more sense of their lives, and do better at living. And all their stories and lives converge and meet at the Big Oakland Powwow.

It is a Canterbury Tales like novel, with each narrative unfolding, and un-layering till we get to the end. At the heart of it though it is about Native Americans and their lives – their stories, the injustices, the motivations, the histories deep buried and sometimes unacknowledged, the need to fit in so strongly because that’s what’s been drummed into your head, and about the marginalized and the invisible lives they lead.

Each chapter is of course focused on one character, and yet it never feels disjointed or separate. It all magnificently comes together in the manner of how families are formed – sometimes by birth, and sometimes just. Dene Oxedene’s track in the book is pretty much what the book is about – he is making a documentary on the lives of Native Americans, as they speak about their experiences of living in Oakland.

Tommy Orange’s writing is direct and cuts to the bone. He shows and tells. He does it all. He is a traditional storyteller, and also breaks form multiple times in the course of the book. Yes, sometimes it can get overwhelming to follow lives of 12 people, but it is a ride you want to be on gladly, and understand, comprehend, and make sense of the world we live in.

“The messy, dangling strands of our lives got pulled into a braid—tied to the back of everything we’ve been doing all along to get us here…we’ve been coming for years, generations, lifetimes, layered in prayer and hand-woven regalia, beaded and sewn together, feathered, braided, blessed, and cursed.”

Do you need to say anything more with this imagery on paper? All I can say is that read this book. Read it with an open mind and heart. I am eagerly looking forward to Tommy Orange’s next.