Autumn, Ali Smith

Oh wow. What a fresh and refreshing novel. Set in the aftermath of Brexit, but travelling between eras through the perspective of Elisabeth and her friend-neighbour-mentor-father figure Mr Gluck. Smith’s ability to capture Mr Gluck’s – ‘call me Daniel’- comatposed state is a work of art. 

Elisabeth is an art history lecturer, confronting a new Britain. A Britain that for the first time for many centuries is more insular, inward looking, xenophobic, regressing from the world they helped shape and reshape. The way divided Englnd is shown is raw, honest and deeply sad. Is Smith’s Autmun the kind of work we can expert in a post-truth Trump world? It will be the only thing to look forward too.

Daniel is Elisabeth’s neighbour. Reclusive, eccentric, mysterious. His past- European and the dark history of the 20th century s perfectly positioned to the European England Elisabeth grew up with. His first words every time he sees her capture him perfectly: ‘What are you reading?’

The friendship is more mentor/father than any such formal definition. He is the most singular influence on her life. It’s beautiful thing, a true equal, respectful partnership. After a decade a part she discovers he is in care and on his final days. She sits by his bed reading. The intersection of these painfully beautiful memories from Elisabeth and Daniel that are most dreamy and simply stunning. 

Here I Am, Jonathan Safran Foer

There is such breath and humanity to any of Safran Foer’s works. 

There’s a deep sorrow that lingers throughout Here I Am.

There’s deep hope that never faulted throughhout Here I Am.

The Jewish American family slowing falling apart. Sam’s hand injury haunts them. An ageing patriarch, an ever loyal and loved dog dying and the land of the Jews under attack- by nature and by its neighbours. 

There’s so much going on in this novel. The relationship between Julia and Jacob, 16 years of marriage, is seemingly coming to an end. There’s such warmth and authenticity to the dialogue. The discovery of a second phone and explict text messages, Julia’s frank assessment: it would be easier if Jacob actually acted upon his words. She knows he can’t, that he doesn’t, and hasn’t. 

Jacob is a writer. Words mean everything to him. His TV show is watched by millions, but he is pouring his heart into a show about his family. The set pieces of dialogue around the kitchen table, in the car, visiting his grandfather are tight, funny, heartbreaking and endlessly compelling. There’s no one who can write like this. 

The intricatities of being Jewish is something I found to be so important to the novel. How a people after 5000 years of persecution remain so resolutely loyal and spiritually connected to their faith is something I will never fully understand. With each character this history lives. With each intersection in the novel, this past and the potential for the future to be different lives. There is such burden and such hope. 

The novel is a sprawling family saga. The divorce is just one part of the experience. The natural disaster that strikes Israel and the consequent war against the Jews could be straight from next week’s news. There’s no grandstanding. The withholding of medical supplies and food from the West Bank raises the moral dilemmas of the two state solution. But it’s Jacob’s answering of the call to return to Israel and to fight, and his subsequent choice to instead return home to his soon to be ex-wife and his children that is most profound. We do have choices, sometimes not making a choice is harder than making the right choice. 

This is one of the greatest novels I have ever read. It will be in my top ten favourite novels.