"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"--
And of course, in the foreground, there is all the improbable nastiness of the world we find ourselves in: the Virus, of course, and his bizarre return to government; the continuing attacks on truth and meaning and language itself (ingeniously represented by a character who never actually appears in the book, a writer who is experiencing speech apraxia); climate-disaster; the small-v virus, of course, the many meanings of "lockdown"; and so on.
The themes of Brexit, xenophobia, the immigration-removal industry, and general intolerance and hate are carried over from the previous books in the sequence, and we meet some of the characters from those books again too, with a lengthy — but relevant — digression into World War II, with Daniel Gluck from the first book recalling his internment on the Isle of Man whilst we follow his sister's undercover work helping Jews to escape from Vichy France.
There are new characters, too: the teenage siblings Sacha and Robert and their mother, the former actress Grace. Sacha is a devoted follower of Greta Thunberg, but reacts with complete incomprehension when her mother suggests that she should find a more precise source than "the internet" for that glib Hannah Arendt quote she's using in her school essay. She reacts with fear and alarm to what she hears about what's going on in the world, whilst her brother takes the moral environment he's growing up in as a licence to do whatever makes him laugh. If politicians are behaving like teenage boys, teenage boys are going to have to take things a notch further, even if that means inflicting serious injuries on your sister for the sake of concretising a metaphor...
Funny, clever, subversive, and warm, but deeply unsettling and frightening. There's a hint here that humans have been faced with tough times before and have got through them with the help of crazy, fearless individuals prepared to swim against the tide, but it's barely a hint. Nothing is resolved at the end of this book, all the work is still there for us to do ourselves.
Summer revolves largely around a mother, Grace, and her two teenage children, Sacha (16) and Robert (13). Sacha is an earnest believer in liberal causes; Robert is precocious and somewhat troublesome. Grace’s ex-husband lives next door with his girlfriend; although they never appear “on camera,” this arrangement has an understandably strong impact on the family environment. A series of events lead to Grace, Sacha, and Robert going on a bit of an adventure with a couple they have only just met, and at that point another storyline picks up and Smith begins dropping hints about connections to the present day and to characters from the previous novels. This is repeated a couple of times until returning to the original protagonists to tie things up.
I was engaged in most of this novel, although occasionally I lost focus. I’m pretty sure it’s me, not Smith, as I’m confident she had clear intent in both style and structure. It could be that I’ve forgotten important details from previous novels. Or that I failed to grasp themes that span all four works. This was a satisfying book in its own way, but I found myself wanting just a bit more from this novel and from the quartet as a whole.
Listened to the audiobook.
The lightness of play with words and their multiple meanings.
The book links back to the stories told and characters in the
This book looks forward to the future.
This novel makes me look afresh, again.
I won't say too much about the plot, but a refresher of Autumn and Winter would help you, as some characters do come back around. And the way such vastly different stories weave together shouldn't work but totally DOES. Smith is a writing sorceress and deserves a Booker.
If the plot of this novel begins to sound excruciatingly straightforward — teenage siblings meet adult near-siblings who take them to meet an ancient remainder of a sibling pair — then I’m not telling it right. For in fact everything here is connected to everything else (perhaps unsurprisingly in Einstein’s connected universe). And the reader is left to just raft along in the wake of Ali Smith’s indefatigable wordplay and enthusiasms. What always surprises me is how this doesn’t become tiring or tiresome. Ali Smith must just have the right lightness of touch.
Of course, this fourth “seasonal” novel from Smith is as much in tune with the zeitgeist as the other three in the set. Here we have abusive internment of migrants, a pandemic whose response is being bungled, the looming precipice of Brexit, and a long hot summer ahead (for all of us). From anyone else I’d shun their loquacious modishness. But here, again, it (mostly) works.
To the tune of You Are My Sunshine:
"There will be sunshine; and lots of sunshine,
The polar icecaps are melting down.
Get suntan lotion. Here comes the ocean.
We won't have to go to Spain to get brown."
I had previously thought that each of the books in
Its hard to describe what the book is about. The focus is on Daniel Gluck and his sister Hannah, and a lot of what story there is takes place during WW II, where Daniel, whose father is a German emigrant to England, follows his father into an internment camp after the start of the war. They lose contact with Hannah, who is in Germany when the war starts. In the present day, we become involved with teenage siblings Sacha and Robert, dealing with contemporary issues like climate change, who serendipitously becomes involved in a journey to return an object of value to Daniel. And there's so much more: about art and aging; Brexit and covid; time and memory; immigration and our interconnectedness to the world. And it's all so cleverly written. I now have to go back to the beginning and read the whole series.
If you've been reading these, you will already be aware of the eccentricity of Smith's writing style as well as how each book focuses on different social, cultural, environmental, and political issues. This one combines much of what was already covered such as Brexit, environmental activism, immigrant detention, and the fear of Others to name a few. Additionally, because Smith writes about topical issues the beginning of COVID-19 is briefly touched upon as a hovering menace. These books are always a super quick read because as a reader you feel compelled to keep turning the pages to see what happens to these characters. And the characters are so well-formed and believable that it can be difficult to discern which are fictional and which are culled from actual historical events.
I'm excited to sample some of her other writing as thus far this series has been my only experience and I'm curious to see if her style is different with different topics.
The books are all similar in that Smith creates stories that have little chronology and slide into and past each other. To enjoy these books, I think that the reader has to trust in Smith, to enjoy being somewhat lost, and to allow themselves to be carried along by her writing. The following bits from a review amused and hit me as quite spot-on. “Dreams are tucked up under the armpits of serious shifts in time and pace. There are no directional arrows Scotch-taped to the floor.”
My disillusionment with this last season may just be that Smith aptly depicted the sorry state that the world found itself in. While she introduces some hope at times, it wasn’t enough for the darkness that overcame me. Reality doesn’t have the ability to care, and can be so cruel and unforgiving at times like these. “Whatever age you are,” one character comments, “you still die too young.”
As Stuart Kelly of The Scotsman writes, “The bigger question the novel poses is: what next? One thing alone is certain. There is no normal to which we will be going back.” That could be the answer to the loss of my addiction to these books, I don’t want to think about what is ahead for me or the world. Have a nice day.
This novel deals with Brexit, the early days of COVID, children coming of age, family breakups, and more....but it's about the people: Grace, her kids Sacha and Robert, Daniel, Hannah and Charlotte.
The elderly Daniel Gluck is a recurring character who first appeared in Autumn, and readers learn much more about his family and his personal history during World War II and the Holocaust. His young neighbor, Elisabeth, also reappears. Charlotte, Art, and Iris return from Winter. Summer introduces teen siblings Sacha and Robert Greenlaw and their mother, former actress Grace. A series of circumstances brings all of these characters together, yet Smith gives her readers the sense that their destinies were already intertwined.
Summer is a fitting conclusion. While I can only award the individual novel 4 stars, the series as a whole certainly deserves 5.
The books are certainly filled with despair and fear, with that vertiginous feeling constantly rattling in the brains of those of us who know our history, utterly bewildered that all this can happen over and over again, and yet not surprised at all. Smith captures characters who cannot quite connect, who cannot quite see past their own worldviews to peer inside the minds of others. Yet, she also offers hope.
That hope has become harder to find, not just during the apocalyptic year of 2020, but during the entirety of my lifetime, the apex of the neoliberal movement. Smith's series is not an instruction manual, not a solution. Rather it is like the songs we sing in the darkness, to remind ourselves that we are not alone. It is a battle cry, or a gospel hymn. It reminds us that we are more than our worst selves. Like the late Shakespeare plays which are referenced frequently throughout the four volumes, Smith suggests that there is still magic in the web, that humans still have the capacity to overcome the dark times we have created, and metamorphose them into something rich and strange.