Falling and Brexiting

28 10 2017

 

Autumn. Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. That’s what it felt like for Keats in 1819.

How about Autumn 2016?

Daniel is a century old. Elisabeth, born in 1984, has her eye on the future. The United Kingdom is in pieces, divided by a historic once-in-a-generation summer.

Love is won, love is lost. Hope is hand in hand with hopelessness. The seasons roll round, as ever.

Ali Smith’s new novel is a meditation on a world growing ever more bordered and exclusive, on what richness and worth are, on what harvest means. This first in a seasonal quartet casts an eye over our own time. Who are we? What are we made of? Shakespearian jeu d’esprit, Keatsian melancholy, the sheer bright energy of 1960s Pop art: the centuries cast their eyes over our own history-making.

Here’s where we’re living. Here’s time at its most contemporaneous and its most cyclic.

From the imagination of the peerless Ali Smith comes a shape-shifting series, wide-ranging in timescale and light-footed through histories, and a story about ageing and time and love and stories themselves.

Here comes Autumn.

It’s a terrific read and extremely well written (as you would expect from the marvellous Ali Smith). Sharp and clever it covers a lot of contemporary Brexity ground as well as some fantastic Pop Art commentary on Pauline Boty. There aren’t many novels with Art History lecturers as central characters and Autumn demonstrates they have a lot to offer. I’d never heard of Boty before and therefore was really pleased to come across this picture – The Only Blonde in the World – by her at Tate St Ives right after finishing the book. It may not have won the Booker prize but it was a very worthy runner up.

 


four stars

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Decimation

7 10 2017

The Tenth Man by Graham Greene

 

In a prison in Occupied France one in every ten men is to be shot. The prisoners draw lots among themselves – and for rich lawyer Louis Chavel it seems that his whole life has been leading up to an agonising and crucial failure of nerve. Hysterical with panic, fear, and a sense of injustice, he offers to barter everything he owns for someone to take his place.

Graham Greene wrote The Tenth Man in 1944, when he was under a two-year contract to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and the manuscript lay forgotten in MGM’s archives until 1983. It was published two years later with an introduction by the author.

It’s an extraordinary premise and the consequences of the offer made by Chavel have a profound impact on the lives of those who remain. Having persuaded another to take his place and ultimately released from prison Chavel ends up returning to his former home where the family of the victim are now living and, changing his name, he starts work as their handyman. Things take a darker turn though when another arrives at the house claiming to be Chavel.

A short and punchy entertainment it is well worth a read.

 

 








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