Ali Smith’s Summer

‘Summer’s like walking down a road just like this one, heading towards both light and dark. Because Summer isn’t just a merry tale. Because there’s no merry tale without the darkness.’

And so we come to the final instalment of Ali Smith’s seasonal quartet, a collection I have loved so much. Once again, I’m left with the sense I can’t possibly do justice to this brilliant writer. In Summer, we visit Daniel Gluck again, first met in Autumn, this time focusing on his internment on the Isle of Man during the war, and pick up his sister’s story in 1940s France as she works to help others escape. We also meet up with Charlotte and Art, and Art’s marvellous aunt Iris, from Winter. Tying their stories together this time are Sasha and Robert Greenlaw, and their mother, Grace. Sasha, environmentally-concerned and passionate about the future of the world, is the polar opposite of her brother, a very clever boy who has learned to deal with his bullies by becoming precociously obnoxious. And a supporter of the current government – ‘I simply noted, like our prime minister’s chief adviser wrote in his blog, that children who come from poverty or grow up in it are not worth educating because they’re just not up to it.’ It’s hard to know whether Robert actually believes this, or whether he’s pushing buttons. I suspect the latter, because Smith seems to have a sympathy for this boy, damaged by social media which has followed him from school to school. And it’s a way to remind her reader of the insidious problems we face from Boris and his sinister sidekick.

As with the other three novels, this is threaded through with sharply-observed references to our world. Just as Autumn was really the first Brexit novel, this is probably the first novel to reflect our ‘new normal’. But, as Grace says early in the novel when she’s trying to convince her daughter that Brainyquote.com is not a proper source, context matters. By bringing in Daniel’s experience of imprisonment in Hutchinson Camp, and his sister’s experience in Vichy France, we’re reminded that nothing is actually new, be that lockdown, the way we treat immigrants, the way we need art, theatre, and music to survive. It’s not that she’s dismissing the impact of our current way of living, or downplaying the threat Covid 19 poses at all – but it is presented as part of an on-going continuum. A bit like the seasons themselves. I’m sitting here in North Wales, in a holiday cottage, hanging onto the last vestiges of summer. Some of the leaves are turning brown, and it was dark before 9pm last night. Autumn is coming, and I’ll be settling in to re-read Smith’s Autumn next week. This is the best way I can deal with the sense of something utterly brilliant coming to an end.

One thought on “Ali Smith’s Summer

  1. Pingback: What a Year … my Top Ten reads for 2020 | Books and Wine Gums

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