Diana Wynne Jones’s Fire and Hemlock (1984) and Ali Smith’s Autumn (2016) are two British novels that evoke an intense friendship between a girl and an older man. In this article, Vanessa Joosen explores their experimental narrative forms which include a complex chronology, unreliable narrator, dream scenes, gaps, and a rich intertextual network to frame an intergenerational friendship that can be read as intergenerational desire. The experimental narratives and reflections on the fluidity of age enable Smith and Jones to evoke this controversial topic without fulling addressing it. A lot is at stake for Fire and Hemlock, given that it is addressed to young readers and there is concern that children’s books could be used for grooming. Controversially, both novels locate the desire in the young girl rather than the old man and explore the agency and moments of disempowerment that the female characters experience. However, an age gap between childhood and adulthood is crucial in qualifying a relationship as “intergenerational desire,” and here, the novels’ experimental structures and fuzzy chronologies create ambiguity. In addition, the books create confusion about the nature of the attraction between the characters. They exploit the ambiguity that incomplete memories, unreliable narration, narrative gaps, metaphors, and intertextual references leave when thematizing what could be defined as friendship, kinship, love, and/or sexual attraction.
Joosen, Vanessa. ‘Holding Hands: Intergenerational Desire in Diana Wynne Jones’s Fire and Hemlock and Ali Smith’s Autumn’.
Poetics Today, vol. 44, no. 1–2, 2023, pp. 131–156.