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We will be discussing Ali Smith’s Autumn, (2016).

Shortlisted for the International Booker Prize (2017), Autumn is the first of Ali Smith’s four seasonal ‘state of the nation’ works. Smith has noted that the novel is about the importance of time. It is also a memorable story about aging and love set against a backdrop of change and uncertainty. 

The central characters in Autumn are Elisabeth Demand and Daniel Gluck. Elizabeth is thirty-two, single and a lecturer in history of art. Daniel, Elizabeth’s neighbour as a child, is now a hundred and one, and lives in a care home. From the start of the novel Daniel is dreaming that he is dead. Initially, the reader does not know if he is, in fact, dead (and nor does he) but lying in the care home Elisabeth, the only one who visits him, is told frequently that Daniel is near death. 

Despite the sixty-nine-year age gap between Elisabeth and Daniel, they have been friends from when she was a young girl. Their bond is a shared love for storytelling and telling each other odd stories. It is through these stories that we discover more about the personal stories of Daniel and Elisabeth. These stories also encourage the reader to rethink what we understand by ‘autumn’. As Smith has noted, ‘a book about autumn would be about the shortness of life’. Yet Daniel’s age,101, suggests that the novel is about something more than the shortness of life. Smith is also well-known as a lover of trees and when we think about autumn, we tend it associate it with trees losing their leaves, another indication of the transience of life.

As the novel was written after the United Kingdom's 2016 European Union membership referendum, Autumn tends to be regarded as the first 'post-Brexit novel' dealing with the issues raised by voters' decision. Smith underscores the impact of the referendum result by showing how characters react to it in different ways. For instance, the Spanish couple who are told to ‘Go Home!’ or the concern that care home assistants will leave the UK, resulting in care homes being bereft of staff.  There is no doubt, however, that Autumn is also about the nature of time itself, and the nature of our experience of time. As we resume most forms of social interaction again, time and how to use it has been at the forefront of all our minds, making this novel not only a timely read but also the perfect opportunity to discuss and share our thoughts and opinions about Autumn with fellow KU Reading Group at November’s KU Reading Group session. 

To take part in November‘s reading group session, please contact Karen on K.Lipsedge@Kingston.ac.uk

Kingston University Reading Group 

Kingston University Reading Group welcomes all staff and students. It was created in 2016 as a means of facilitating discussion and encouraging new perspectives on race and identity. The project falls under the umbrella of the University's Race Equality Charter Mark and helps to promote racial equality as well as excellence in teaching and learning. 

The project has built on the success of Kingston University's Big Read, launched in 2015, which has received national praise for using shared reading to achieve effective collaboration across communities. 

The Kingston University Reading Group runs regular sessions for various Kingston University staff and student groups, community organisations and local schools and colleges. We would like to thank KU’s Library Services and AP&I (students) team for their ongoing support, and the KU Big Read, for the collaboration opportunities.

We aim to:

•    Offer a platform for all staff and students to raise and engage on equality, diversity, and inclusion issues

•    Facilitate discussion on challenging subjects and encourage new perspectives

•    Foster collaboration across the whole of the University as well as with the wider community.