Ali Smith’s creative writing style is quite the change from Kirby’s. At first I found this difficult to grapple with. The first chapter of the novel drops you into a world infused with poetic nuances such as ‘[..]in sun I glitter, wind heaps me over litter, put a message in a bottle, throw the bottle in the sea, the bottle’s made of me[..]’. Yet looking back on this chapter after completing the novel and having context in hand, it is easy to delight in Smith’s writing.
Similarly, I at first found the main character less than likeable, her scene in the Post Office seeming trivial – literary drudgery. However, once again, following Elisabeth throughout the novel, the Post Office becomes a place metaphorical for societal structures and her constant battle to portray her own image within the world as valid. (This is demonstrated by the pernickety nature of the passport check and send service, ironically rejecting her head and then eye size. This scene is juxtaposed with her memories of time spent with Daniel, which her mother disapproves of – her mother being another hierarchal, unwarranted critic in her life.) Throughout the novel Elisabeth is a questionable main lead, everything from her name down to her subject of study is challenged by surrounding characters in relation to gender, age and family relations.
Daniel is the one character within the book who teaches Elisabeth that there is more to the world than meets the eye, he challenges her positively. At first he is her next door neighbour, then babysitter, confidant, teacher and finally lover (although only in Elisabeth’s eyes). Daniel alludes not only to non sensical scenes from his coma-state, but also provides Elisabeth with memories that challenging the everyday story. A particular highlight for me was Daniel’s description of Goldilocks and the Three Bears where in his version, Goldilocks spray paints the house before she leaves, this challenges years of folktale reiterating what Daniel states; ‘whoever makes up the story makes up the world’. The word story of course being a substitute for frame of mind and viewpoint.
In terms of the Autumnal setting, Smith ties together each character within the novel through scenes that comment on subjects that are present in our own Autumn, such as Brexit. Daniel wears an outfit made of leaves and is constantly shown to use this season as a shelter, especially as his impending death never arrives; this is Autumn not Winter after all.
If you are looking for something a little different yet still familial in terms of personal relationships, Autumn brings about an unusual connection between young girl and elderly man that challenges not only our perception of relationships, but the way in which we view the world this season. You won’t look at a falling leaf in the same way for a while.