Summer is the fourth book in Ali Smith’s seasonal quartet. Once again, I feel that my reviewing skills won’t do justice to what Smith has accomplished. But I’ll try nonetheless.
Here’s the synopsis: In the present, Sacha knows the world’s in trouble. Her brother Robert just is trouble. Their mother and father are having trouble. Meanwhile the world’s in meltdown – and the real meltdown hasn’t even started yet. In the past, a lovely summer. A different brother and sister know they’re living on borrowed time. This is a story about people on the brink of change. They’re family, but they think they’re strangers. So: where does family begin? And what do people who think they’ve got nothing in common have in common? Summer.
Here we come full circle. Previous seasons become connected with the plot presented in Summer. The characters intertwine one way or another, allowing us to learn more about them. Such is the case with Daniel Gluck. In Autumn he’s presented as Elisabeth’s neighbor. Here, however, we learn about his past and his family. (I won’t go into detail because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read it yet.)
This is the third book in Ali Smith’s seasonal quartet. While it’s titled Spring, it’s mostly set in autumn.
It follows two storylines, one focusing on Richard, a TV & Film Director who has recently lost his dear friend Paddy. Then we have Brittany Hall (a.k.a Brit), who works as a security guard in a detention center for immigrants. And similar to the trope in Winter, there’s Florence, a mysterious 12-year-old girl, an outsider whose spontaneous apparition causes changes in both the lives of Richard and Brit. As usual, current political events were intertwined with the characters’ personal lives.
So far, all of the books in the quartet have been challenging. But Spring has been a bit more complex because at first because I couldn’t find any visible connection between the storylines.
I believe that one of the purposes of this novel was that it’s time we realize what’s happening not only in the UK but in the world. The injustice refugees face by simply moving to a new country, searching for a better life for themselves and for their children. And I say “one of the purposes” because I’m sure Ali Smith wanted to also transmit sub-messages regarding today’s media entertainment and use of the internet and technology. These references were scattered and apparently unlinked, but that’s just Ali Smith being herself.
Another aspect I found interesting was the symbology of clouds since they’re often mentioned in both storylines. I came across an interview that Ali Smith did for Penguin UK, which you can read here. But I think this quote from the interview summarizes best the meaning clouds have in the book:
“The shifting structures of things is always playing out above our heads, right there if we need to remember how to change things, how things can change, what a difference taking the air makes, or referring ourselves back to the elements – of which we’re also made.”
Overall, spring as a season is a time of revival, flourishing, and awakening — thus, reflecting the hopeful outlook of this story.
Synopsis: Winter? Bleak. Frosty wind, earth as iron, water as stone, so the old song goes. When four people, strangers and family, converge on a fifteen-bedroom house in Cornwall for Christmas, will there be enough room for everyone?
Winter is the second part of Ali Smith’s seasonal quartet, the first being Autumn. Although it is not a continuation, it feels as if it were, given the style it maintains.
First of all, don’t be fooled by this picture or the book cover, it’s not a Christmassy story nor the type of story that transmits a warm holiday spirit. Quite the opposite. It focusses on the cold and bleakness that winter brings upon holiday season, both literally and figuratively.
Some parts of the story were funny, making me laugh out loud. But other parts were rather sombre, depicting aspects of life that range from distressful to uneventful.
Memories from the past, the present, and surrealism are all blurred together. Ali Smith combines social, political, and cultural references with the lives of the characters, all while including many puns that you must be looking out for.
I feel that this review is nowhere near doing justice for this book. But it’s definitely worth the read. I cannot wait until I read the rest of the seasonal quarter. And yes, I’ll wait for spring and summer respectively.
Autumn by Ali Smith is a Brexit novel but at the same time, it isn’t. It’s a story about love, friendship and growing old. The description on Goodreads is just as vague: 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…
Some passages are very abstract and it’s filled with metaphors. Sometimes there’s a metaphor within a metaphor. And there’s no chronological timeline or specific plot. Things just happen, and Ali Smith does an excellent job at making the mundane seem interesting.
Although it’s short, it’s not the type of book you should rush through. On the contrary, I enjoyed it more when I read it slower. The reader must be committed to pay attention and make inferences, as many of the events and things described require interpretation. There’s also a lot of cultural references which I suggest you look up in case you don’t know much about them.
There’s a main character, two actually, Elizabeth and Mr. Gluck. But they’re not the sole focus of the story. The narrator is sometimes omnipresent, sometimes tacitly becomes the characters, while other times it narrates scenes with no characters involved.
There’s a prominent Virginia Woolf influence, but Ali Smith has a more modern, direct, and unique style. Her words flow easily, it feels as if you were floating in a body of water and the only way to read the novel is to let yourself go and flow with the current.
I cannot wait to read the rest of the seasonal quartet.