Drake the Bookshop on Autumn

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Six reading groups shadowed the Man Booker Prize this year. Each group read and reviewed one of the shortlisted titles. Here, we focus on Autumn by Ali Smith.


Autumn. Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. That’s what it felt like for Keats in 1819.

How about autumn 2016? Daniel is a century old. Elisabeth, born in 1984, has her eye on the future. The United Kingdom is in pieces, divided by a historic once-in-a-generation summer.

Autumn is a meditation on a world growing ever more bordered and exclusive, on what richness and worth are, on what harvest means. This first in a seasonal quartet casts an eye over our own time. Who are we? What are we made of? Shakespearian jeu d’esprit, Keatsian melancholy, the sheer bright energy of 1960s Pop art: the centuries cast their eyes over our own history-making.

Ali Smith was born in Inverness in 1962. She is the author of Free Love and Other Stories, Like, Other Stories and Other Stories, Hotel World, The Whole Story and Other Stories, The Accidental, Girl Meets Boy, The First Person and Other Stories, There but for the, Artful, How to be both, and Public library and other stories. Hotel World was shortlisted for the 2001 Booker Prize and the Orange Prize and The Accidental was shortlisted for the 2005 Man Booker and the Orange Prize. How to be Both won the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, the Goldsmiths Prize and the Costa Novel Award and was shortlisted for the 2014 Man Booker and the Folio Prize. Ali lives in Cambridge.

Reading Group review

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Autumn is a slim novel where nothing much is happening and yet is a deceptively complex story with many layers.

The novel is set in post Brexit Britain and explores the strongly felt emotions experienced in the days following the referendum. The story focuses on Elisabeth, her mother, and her mother’s neighbour Daniel Gluck with whom Elisabeth developed a close friendship during her childhood years when living at home with her mum.

‘All across the country, people felt it was the wrong thing. All across the country, people felt it was the right thing. All across the country, people felt they’d really lost. All across the country, people felt they’d really won.’ This was a paragraph repeatedly mentioned as such a powerful and poignant description of how everyone felt!

Barriers are one theme of the novel, either the physical barriers of the mysterious new fences being built near Elisabeth’s village, or the bureaucratic barriers faced by Elisabeth whilst trying to update her passport. (I wonder how many of us have a face that isn’t the correct size for a passport).

Memory is the key theme of the book, particularly the rose-tinted view that people tend to have of the past. The inclusion of real life 1960s Artist, Pauline Boty, gave a fascinating insight into what is perceived at the glamorous, swinging 60s but what was, in fact, a lifestyle that she, like the majority of people was too poor to enjoy, wearing her coat indoors as she had no money to heat her flat.

Many of us were really taken by the beautiful prose. Smith writes with a simple almost dreamlike style, which can make mundane scenes, e.g. sitting by a hospital bed or waiting in a post office queue, strikingly beautiful.

Most of us agreed that though this was a complicated read, the meanings could be unravelled by the end – it is a book well worth reading on many levels.

The group was thrilled that they were given this book to shadow in the lead up to Tuesday’s announcement and feel it would be a very worthy winner. Good luck Ali!"

Get involved

Read reviews of Autumn and leave your own. Find out more about the book by downloading a free Readers’ Guide and a supporting booklist featuring similar titles.

Meet all of the shadow reading groups for this year.

If your reading group would like to apply for similar opportunities in the future, please visit our Noticeboard.

You can listen to the brilliant Man Booker Prize podcast audio series on Soundcloud with Joe Haddow from Radio 2.

Keep up to date on all the latest reading group news – sign up for our free monthly e-newsletter.

Share your thoughts about the Man Booker Prize on Twitter and Instagram using #FinestFiction and #ManBooker2017.

For more information, visit the Man Booker Prize website.


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