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2017 Man Booker Longlist: Autumn

autumn

Book #11 for our panel is Autumn by Ali Smith. Our panel reviewed the book on the following criteria: 1) writing quality; 2) originality; 3) character development; 4) plot development; and 5) overall enjoyment. We’ve each provided mini-reviews and ratings. Here are our ratings for Autumn.

Autumn by Ali Smith
2017 Man Booker (longlist)
Published in: 2017
Judges: Jen, Book Worm, Nicole, and Lisa
Find it/buy it here: Autumn

Synopsis (from Amazon): 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. Love is won, love is lost. Hope is hand-in-hand with hopelessness. The seasons roll round, as ever.

Ali Smith’s new novel is a meditation on a world growing ever more bordered and exclusive, on what richness and worth are, on what harvest means. It is the first installment of her Seasonal quartet—four stand-alone books, separate yet interconnected and cyclical (as the seasons are)—and it casts an eye over our own time. Who are we? What are we made of? Shakespearean jeu d’esprit, Keatsian melancholy, the sheer bright energy of 1960s pop art: the centuries cast their eyes over our own history making.

Jen’s Review: Forgive me in advance for using this opportunity to gush about Autumn. This book was perfection for me (despite it not getting perfect score on my rating card — which we may restructure for next year). It was everything I love and enjoy wrapped into one great literary work: brilliant writing, intelligent, quirky, playful but profound, and thoroughly enjoyable to read.

On the surface, Autumn is a fun and easy read, a book that can be solely enjoyed for it’s humor and lovely relationships. I laughed heartily at certain parts and I adored the relationship between Elisabeth and Daniel. Yet Autumn is so much more than a funny book about a beautiful friendship. Below the surface it’s also incredibly profound and intelligent. It tackles political issues such as Brexit, describing a country divided and conflicted – the novel’s first sentence is a modification of the first sentence from A Tale of Two Cities and the protagonist reads A Brave New World.

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.

Using the rating scale, I did have to take off one point for plot development. I found this unfair and Nicole and I have discussed how our “plot development” rating has unfairly impacted certain books that are not heavy on plot but quite fantastic in their lack of  structured plot. As the synopsis indicates, Autumn is a meditation on a variety of things (aging, human connection and identity, etc). It certainly doesn’t lack a plot but the plot is rather loose — dream sequences, character musings, and snapshots of events and actions.

In sum, this book should and will make the shortlist. It’s probably my favorite book on the list and that’s saying something since I’ve loved most books on the longlist this year.

Writing quality: 5/5
Originality 5/5
Character development: 4/4
Plot development 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 19/20

Lisa’s Review: I usually don’t like books with lots of description of dreams, but I did like this one. I often don’t like the dream sequences because I don’t know what dreams are supposed to mean, and as a psychologist I am very impatient with dream interpretation. However, with this book I was almost able to let go of my need to understand what all the dream/imagination scenes were supposed to be about, and just to read them. One of Daniel’s lessons for Elisabeth is, after all, to learn to immerse herself in a story and follow wherever it takes her. And like the art that Elisabeth studies, this novel itself is a type of pop-art collage mixing the all-too-real and disturbing – e.g., Brexit – with the imaginary.

Thus on one level, this novel gave me a lot to think about. On a different level, I loved the conversations between the narrator Elisabeth as a child and Daniel. Some of them made me laugh out loud. I loved that he befriended this lonely child and tried to help her open to different ways of thinking. This novel is ultimately hopeful: the human relationships are touching and real, and in the case of Elisabeth and Daniel, beautiful.

Writing quality: 4/5
Originality 5/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot development 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 17/20

Book Worm’s Review:  This is the Booker longlist book I was thinking would get my first 5-star rating. The writing has that little something extra that makes it magical and while it is hard to describe exactly what I love about this book, I do wholeheartedly love it.

I have marked it slightly down for character and plot development. Elisabeth is really the only character I feel I got to know, and I don’t feel like I know even her that well. In terms of plot we see Elisabeth go from child to adult but we miss large chunks of her life as they happen in the background. This is a book about emotions, especially love in all its forms, and living in the present moment. That sense of being in the moment is carried through even when the narrative flashes back to an earlier time.

I love Elisabeth she is witty and irreverent and the situations she finds herself in, especially with the passport and the Post Office, are just so true to life as I know it that I couldn’t help laughing. The United Kingdom Elisabeth lives in is my United Kingdom with all its flaws and failings.

I have lots of quotes I could share but I will narrow it down to just my favourite:

“The lifelong friends, he said. We sometimes wait a lifetime for them.”

Writing quality: 5/5
Originality 5/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot development 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 18/20

Nicole’s Review:  This book is about everything,  it is EVERYTHING and it’s fabulous.  I could end there.  The writing is like no other, the humor hit me in the perfect spot, the friendship was lovely.  It’s a BOOK ABOUT ART without being pretentious.  Who knew?

I’m delighted to have discovered Smith and thrilled that there will be 3 more seasons in this series.  So much love for this book.

Writing quality: 5/5
Originality 5/5
Character development: 4/4
Plot development 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 19/20

Average score across all panelists: 18.25/20

Our Collective Ranking of Longlist books to date:

1.  Autumn by Ali Smith: 18.25/20
2. Exit West by Hamid: 17.4/20
3. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders: 16.8/20
4. Solar Bones by Mike McCormack: 16.67/20
5. Home Fire 16.33/20
6. Days Without End by Sebastian Barry: 16/20
7. History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund: 15.4/20
8. Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor: 14.87/20
9. Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead: 13.9/20
10. Swing Time by Zadie Smith: 13.7/20
11. Elmet by Fiona Mozley : 13.5/20
12. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness: 12.67

Next up, our last book on the list: 4321 by Paul Auster

12 Comments Post a comment
  1. Tracy S #

    I still have about 6 of the longlist to read, but I’m going out on a limb here. I think this is the Man Booker prize winner this year. It’s topical, it’s timeless, and it’s just brilliant. Ali Smith is becoming one of my favorite writers– I’ve loved all the books I’ve read by her.

    Liked by 1 person

    September 8, 2017
  2. Loved it, and wish it would win, but don’t think it will

    Liked by 1 person

    September 8, 2017
  3. Paula #

    Wow, that’s a high average score! I just received my copy and all your reviews got me really excited to start reading it right away.

    Like

    September 8, 2017
  4. Anita #

    Of course, one of the ones I didn’t get to is of course the best, lol . . .sounds like I need to read it, shortlist or not.

    Like

    September 8, 2017
  5. I have PRADD (Post Reading Autumn Depressive Disorder – no other book will do)

    Liked by 1 person

    September 9, 2017
    • Ha ha, me too

      Like

      September 9, 2017
    • Anita #

      LOL, okay, that’s not good . . .but you are motivating me to squeeze it in somehow.

      Liked by 1 person

      September 9, 2017

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  1. 2017 Man Booker Shortlist Predictions | The Reader's Room

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