cover image Autumn


Ali Smith. Pantheon, $24.95 (272p) ISBN 978-1-101-87073-0

This splendid free-form novel%E2%80%94the first in a seasonally themed tetralogy%E2%80%94chronicles the last days of a lifelong friendship between Elisabeth, a British university lecturer in London, and her former neighbor, a centenarian named Daniel. Opening with an oblique, dreamy prologue about mortality, the novel proper sets itself against this past summer's historic Brexit vote, intermittently flashing back to the early years of Elisabeth and Daniel's relationship. Though there are a few relevant subplots, including Elisabeth's nightmarish attempt to procure a new passport, as well as her fascination with the painter Pauline Boty, the general plot is appropriately shapeless, reflecting the character's discombobulated psyche. Smith (How to Be Both) deftly juxtaposes her protagonists' physical and emotional states in the past and present, tracking Elisabeth's path from precocity to disillusionment. Eschewing traditional structure and punctuation, the novel charts a wild course through uncertain terrain, an approach that excites and surprises in equal turn. Seen through Elisabeth's eyes, Daniel's deterioration is particularly affecting. Smith, always one to take risks, sees all of them pay off yet again. (Feb.)