The Collage Police

Christian Lorentzen

  • Autumn by Ali Smith
    Penguin, 272 pp, £8.99, August 2017, ISBN 978 0 241 97331 8
  • Winter by Ali Smith
    Hamish Hamilton, 336 pp, £16.99, November 2017, ISBN 978 0 241 20702 4

Several factors contribute to the innocuousness of Ali Smith’s current project. She’s now published two novels of her projected ‘Seasonal Quartet’: Autumn, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and Winter. These books don’t share characters or continuity but constitute a rapid-response literary gloss on the Brexit crisis. Within the fictional United Kingdom of these novels, the referendum is discussed at the dinner table, street-level xenophobia is observed, fences have been put up, some people are angry, some people are afraid, agitation and paranoia are pervasive, and it’s easy to interpret anything coming together or falling apart on the page as a political allegory. Seasons are sentimental things, and now that Britain’s seasons are said to have collapsed into a monoseason, everything to do with nature in these novels might be a symptom of global warming, and climate change has added to nostalgia for the weather, making it more than something to talk about when you want to avoid talking about anything else. I hadn’t realised Autumn was ‘about’ climate change until I read a review cleaving to that interpretation, and I still don’t quite buy it. Nor would I say that these novels are ‘about’ Brexit, though it keeps coming up, or being dragged in, and Winter features as a principal character one actual recent immigrant to the UK.

The full text of this book review is only available to subscribers of the London Review of Books.

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