The UEA’s Spring Literary Festival provides an opportunity to listen to some distinctive literary voices who talk about their work, about themselves and about this strange old world we live in. We’re really pleased to bring you a review of Ali Smith’s talk, which has been kindly provided by Yaiza Canopoli.
Ali Smith is an incredibly interesting and unique writer. She has published multiple novels, including Girl Meets Boy and How to Be Both, as well as short stories and plays. Her writing is complex while still remaining playful, it is contemporary and fresh, and she never fails to bring new and exciting ideas to the bookish world. On May 3 she was interviewed by Dr Philip Langeskov at the University of East Anglia, where she introduced us to her newest novel, Autumn, released in October 2016.
The book is the first in a seasonal quartet, and it is at this point considered the first great Brexit novel. It deals with the aftermath of the vote and our contemporary political landscape, as well as the effect media has on people, and the current problem of fake news. Smith did an excellent job of selling her novel to the audience with a brilliant reading, alongside her hilarious reactions to Langeskov’s questions.
The seasonal theme for the novels in this quartet came about as a way to respond to the complexity of life; while each book stands on its own and is representative of a particular season, all the seasons are contained within each other. Autumn is a part of summer, winter, and spring, and those are a part of autumn. According to Smith, there is no such thing as linear time in real life, everything is a messy, interwoven web of events, so this theme seems to fit her writing quite well.
She initially had no intention to write about Brexit specifically, but set out to write novels that are as contemporary as possible and reflect what is happening in our world. When she was about to hand in her manuscript, she asked for more time following the vote, as writing a novel reflective of contemporary society seemed pointless without including the impact of this massive political change. The book then became a reflection on the media and the way words are twisted in the news; “the news are always made up anyway”. The characters are tired of everything that is happening, of sad news, of angry people shouting at each other, of people being hateful, of people getting hurt, and of people dealing with everything the wrong way. It is very much a representation of the misery society is feeling—whichever side of the argument you are on, no one is happy with the situation.
Ali Smith has a talent for taking something old and dull and presenting it in an entirely new way, making it suddenly new and interesting. She is a very talented writer and a kind person, so if you are interested in Brexit, or the world surrounding us in general, I would recommend picking up her novel. And if you are unsure about whether you should read it or not, go and attend one of her readings—she is magnificent and will definitely have you convinced by the end of the night.
Thank you to Yaiza Canopoli for reviewing the talk. Photo credits to Stephanie McKenna and Nicholas Bradley.