Autumn by Ali Smith

★★★★☆ (4/5)

• Puns, the poor man’s currency; poor old John Keats, well, poor all right, though you couldn’t exactly call him old. Autumn poet, winter Italy, days away from dying he found himself punning like there was no tomorrow. Poor chap. There really was no tomorrowimages (1)

• So try not to move the head. What’s this in his mouth, grit? it’s sand, it’s under his tongue, he can feel it, he can hear it grinding when his teeth move against each other, singing its sand-song: I’m ground so small, but in the end I’m all, I’m softer if I’m underneath you when you fall, in sun I glitter, wind heaps me over litter, put a message in a bottle, throw the bottle in the sea, the bottle’s made of me, I’m the hardest grain to harvest to harvest

• Daniel Gluck, seven years old, in good clothes he’s always being told how lucky he is to have in a world where so many have so little, looks down at the conkers he should never have sullied his good cap with and sees the brown shine on them go dull. Bitter memories, even when you’re dead. How very disheartening. Never mind. Hearten up

• Regrets when you’re dead? A past when you’re dead? Is there never any escaping the junkshop of the self?

• The pauses are a precise language, more a language than actual language is, Elisabeth thinks

• That’s not what I mean, she says. I’m tired of the news. I’m tired of the way it makes things spectacular that aren’t, and deals so simplistically with what’s truly appalling. I’m tired of the vitriol. I’m tired of the anger. I’m tired of the meanness. I’m tired of the selfishness. I’m tired of how we’re doing nothing to stop it. I’m tired of how we’re encouraging it. I’m tired of the violence there is and I’m tired of the violence that’s on its way, that’s coming, that hasn’t happened yet. I’m tired of liars. I’m tired of sanctified liars. I’m tired of how those liars have let this happen. I’m tired of having to wonder whether they did it out of stupidity or did it on purpose. I’m tired of lying governments. I’m tired of people not caring whether they’re being lied to any more. I’m tired of being made to feel this fearful. I’m tired of animosity. I’m tired of pusillanimosity. I don’t think that’s actually a word, Elisabeth says. I’m tired of not knowing the right words, her mother says.

• The days are still warm, the air in the shadows sharper. The nights are sooner, chillier, the light a little less each time

• But no light comes on in any of the windows. It takes about half an hour of standing in the rain for him to admit there’s nobody in, that he’s been standing in a yard shouting bad rhymes at a house where nobody’s home

• It was something else, about how melancholy and nostalgia weren’t relevant in the slightest. Things just happened. Then they were over. Time just passed. Partly it felt unpleasant, to think like that, rude even. Partly it felt good. It was kind of a relief.

• Today he looks like a Roman senator, his sleeping head noble, his eyes shut and blank as a statue, his eyebrows mere moments of frost

• It is a privilege, to watch someone sleep, Elisabeth tells herself. It is a privilege to be able to witness someone both here and not here. To be included in someone’s absence, it is an honour, and it asks quiet. It asks respect

• She is brilliant. She is a whole new level of the word true. She is dangerous and shining.

• Here’s an old story so new that it’s still in the middle of happening, writing itself right now with no knowledge of where or how it’ll end

• It’s the word integrity, her mother said. It does it every time. I hear it and I see in my head the faces of the liars

• Recalled to life, Elisabeth says. Hunger, want and nothing. The whole city’s in a storm at sea and that’s just the beginning. Savagery’s coming. Heads are going to roll.

• None of that was life. Life? was what you worked to catch, the intense happiness of an object slightly set apart from you

• he was from another time. Well, they almost all were. Even the people meant to be from now were really from then

• She’d never want to be too fixed in her ways

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