Ali Smith’s Autumn is a lyrical novel, but also a puzzling one.
Part of her Seasonal series (followed by the now released Winter), each of the novels is touted to deal with “time and how we experience it”. This explains the non-linear narrative utilised in this novel.
The central focus here is the relationship between Elisabeth, a young girl (and at other times in the text, a young woman) and her neighbour, an elderly man called Daniel Gluck. Gluck is an exceptional kind of man – one who encourages Elisabeth to see the world in new ways. It is the central relationship of Elisabeth’s life – one that shapes her career and her future relationships.
Threaded through it all is ponderings on feminism, literature, art and Brexit – and how it could be signifying a shift to a more xenophobic world. Things no doubt high on Smith’s list of priorities and concerns in the world around her today. It jumps around a lot – and we fins out more about Elisabeth than we do Daniel, who remains a somewhat mysterious figure.
I wouldn’t say I loved it, but it was intriguing and thought-provoking. Much like her beautiful writing, Autumn takes things that appear mundane, and lifts them to a whole other level.
There’s a lot to like about Judas, the 2017 Man Booker Prize nominated novel by Amos Oz. An Israeli, Oz has exceptionally beautiful prose and seems to have mastered romantic longing in his stories.
This one if about Schmuel, a university student dedicated to the study if Jewish views of Christ – and that also if Judas, a largely demonised character in Christian mythology but not so much in historical record. But Schmuel’s life is upended when his parents announce they can no longer afford his school fees, and his girlfriend leaves him to marry her ex.
Schmuel quickly finds himself living as a companion to an old Jewish politician and his daughter-in-law, a sad and mysterious women who quickly he comes to dream about.
Its a book about foolish young hearts, unrequited love, intellectual curiosity, and the ostracising of the Jews for their failure to recognise Jesus as the messiah. Some of this was deeply religious, and some political and much of it admittedly outside of my sphere of understanding. And this did slow down my reading of what ultimately is a finely crafted story.
An intriguing and reasonably easy read, The Last Painting of Sara de Vos satisfies with two intertwined narratives.
One is the story of Sara de Vos, a fictional 17th century Dutch female painter and the tragic story of the loss or her daughter, and her subsequent abandonment by her husband. It’s a moving tale and also an interesting glimpse into how difficult it was to pursue your talents of a woman of this time – even one as exceptional as Sara is portrayed to be.
Interspersed with this is the story of a forgery. Ellie Shipley, a talented but unappreciated art historian and restorationist is flattered by the offer to ‘copy’ De Vos’ ‘At The Edge of a Wood’ for insurance purposes – and despite the unusual circumstances of the deal, accepts as a way to prove her skills. Eventually she comes to realise she is creating an elaborate copy for the black market – but by this point she is so engrossed with perfecting the project she cannot stop herself.
The owner of the original – Martin De Groot – uses a private investigator to find Ellie, but his plan to confront her with the truth is thwarted by his growing attraction for the solitary Shipley.
Many, many years later, the two are reunited again when two copies of ‘At The Edge of a Wood’ are sourced for an Australian exhibition.
Some beautiful storytelling and interesting questions raised about the value of art – and the value of a meticulous copy. Definitely worth a look.