Thursday, 15 February 2018

Book Review: Autumn

An already well established author, Ali Smith has produced another bestseller in the form of Autumn and before I even started to read it, there were many mixed reviews available online. The writing style is fairly difficult to follow as it’s so stylised; although that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it is one of things that I found both interesting and frustrating. It is also the kind of book that I’d argue if she’s wasn’t so established, probably would’ve struggled to get this piece published as it appeals to a niche market; it’s definitely a book for the literature lovers. Anyone who picks this up for light reading will probably give up on it, I have workmates who did exactly that. I persevered with it, which I’m glad about as I didn’t hate it by any means, but I also don’t adore it. The writing style was a massive issue for me; it was incredibly disjointed and that made the plot difficult to follow, although overall the narrative flowed well as the writing style never faltered throughout. This is the kind of novel that you have to really, really concentrate on because it’s fluid and unyielding. In all honesty, even after finishing the novel, I’m not sure what I got from it.

The cover artwork is beautiful, I love the traditional colourscheme of autumn being reflected in the burnt orange hue of the top half of the page mixed with the gold typography and detailed painted landscape of the lower half of the page. However, the theme of the autumn season didn’t seem to be very clear within the text, unfortunately. Each of the characters (there were a lot of characters) had their own untold story, which seeped through the strange linguistic style to speak to the reader. The relationship between a young girl and an old man was a slightly bizarre one, often teetering on the edge of suggesting something slightly sinister (which it wasn’t), although this was fully explained further on in the novel. I liked the idea that the people you meet can influence your life in a positive way, which for Elisabeth meant learning about the art world, opening up her mind and seeing the world through a different pair of eyes. On one hand, you could even argue that this is a feminist novel as the art Elisabeth so loves is created by female artists who have been forgotten and misunderstood throughout the ages. The meaning was rather deep, suggesting that if an artist is not remembered then her life is overlooked alongside the art that she created during said life.

There were a range of topics fluidly covered throughout, including sexuality, feminism, literature, art, prejudice to name a few. It’s a novel that talks about many things in very few pages, considering how much information is packed in. As much as the linguistic style is questionable, there were some quotes, anecdotes and prose that were simply beautiful and caught me off guard (they all seemed to come in at the points where I was close to giving up!) as well as some parts that genuinely made me laugh, but in all honesty it did feel like the kind of book that had a bit too much information pushed into every single word; although it was an unusual writing style, it was still deliberately rigid in the way that it read. As 2018 is the year of the woman, I can see this novel becoming a a great talking point for book clubs and reading groups as a lot of information is covered in only a few hundred pages, but particularly to do with women and how they are portrayed in the media, the art world and every day life. It also explores what is adulthood, or how the adults we meet as children influence who we become as adults; relationships are both described and explored beautifully, which surprised me as for around half the novel I struggled to work out who was who, unfortunately. 

Overall, I have a love/hate relationship with this book. I love that it is so unique, but at the same time the writing style was so difficult to follow that the information can be lost if you don’t concentrate fully on the text. With hindsight, I would’ve chosen to read this book in one sitting; I feel like it would’ve made more sense if I had completely lost myself in the text rather than having breaks in between. As an arts graduate, I really loved the mention of arts education and the lack of female empowerment during the Pop Art movement, which is probably why I enjoyed this book far more than I expected it to. However the issue for me really is the linguistic style as yes, it is interesting and it adds another dimension to the book but it also made it difficult to follow the plotline, although the plot was so varied and seemingly every changing it was difficult enough to follow as it stood. I feel like this review doesn’t read well; in all honesty, it doesn’t make much sense, which feels fitting when I think about the book as the book isn’t the most coherent read. My suggestion would be to delve into the pages, really concentrate, give it time and you’ll likely enjoy it, although personally I wouldn’t describe the novel as a masterpiece because the writing style was so frustrating for me. However, the content is fantastic and it’s a good read.

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