Literary Fiction

Daily Mail (London), October 14, 2016 | Go to article overview

Literary Fiction


Byline: CLAIRE ALLFREE

AUTUMN by Ali Smith (Hamish Hamilton PS16.99) ALI SMITH is a terrific writer, but this latest novel is not quite brilliant even though its twinned stories of a young girl and a lost British pop artist feel powerfully connected to Smith's 2014 Booker-shortlisted masterpiece How To Be Both.

As a child, Elisabeth spends many hours in the company of her eccentric neighbour Daniel; later, at art college, she stumbles upon the erotically charged paintings of Pauline Boty, the tragic female star of the British pop art movement whom, it turns out, Daniel also knew and possibly deeply loved.

And now Daniel is lying inert in a care home watched over almost daily by Elisabeth, while outside an unrecognisable new England reels in the aftermath of the EU referendum.

The novel is the first in a planned 'seasons' quartet, although the narrative itself plays havoc with time, telescoping back and forth across the decades in ways that underscore the impossibility of ever charting a coherent line through history, but which also prevent the novel's many narrative strands from coming fully into focus.

Yet the theme of death and renewal charge through the story like an autumn storm.

Even in not-quite-vintage Smith there is an awful lot to lift the soul, not least her extraordinarily playful use of language a life-giving force in itself.

ECHOLAND by Per Petterson (Harvill Secker PS14.99) WHEN Per Petterson's mother read his second novel Echoland, she dismissed it as 'childish' (an incident that would appear in reworked form in his novel I Curse The River Of Time). Yet, thanks to his 2003 breakthrough book Out Stealing Horses, Petterson is currently one of Norway's biggest literary stars. Now, Echoland first published in 1989 has been translated into English and, while it's clearly the work of a young man, his late mother's criticism feels a little harsh.

Twelve-year-old Arvid is on holiday with his parents and grandparents in a small Danish seaside town. …

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