Summer: A Novel (Seasonal Quartet)

by Ali Smith

Hardcover, 2020

Call number




Pantheon (2020), 400 pages


"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"--

Media reviews

Publisher's Weekly
Like its two predecessors in Smith's acclaimed Seasonal Quartet (Autumn and Winter), this dynamic novel captures the many turmoils of life in the contemporary U.K. through ecstatic language and indirect narrative collisions. The first third, set mostly on a Scottish train platform, concerns Richard
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Lease, an over-the-hill TV and film director mourning his recently deceased collaborator, Paddy. Rife with nuanced reflections on the nature of art and mourning, Richard's ruminative section is the book's most immediate and engaging. After Richard lowers himself into the path of an oncoming train, readers meet his would-be rescuer, Brit, a security guard at a migrant detention facility. Brit has been lured into an impromptu journey by Florence, a pseudo-messianic young girl seemingly capable of inspiring empathy in even the darkest of hearts. The three mismatched characters are soon traveling together, on their way to an old battlefield where the violences of yesteryear and the present day will converge. As was the case with Autumn and Winter, the novel's setting is its foremost strength and increasingly enervating flaw, leading to writing that alternately astounds and exasperates. About three-quarters of the way through the third quarter of this series, the book's most memorable character, Richard, provides a relevant description of the whole enterprise, a response for every season: Gimmicky, but impressive all the same.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member thorold
The fourth and — regrettably — last in Ali Smith's wonderful exercise in writing about the world in (almost) real time, her "Seasonal Quartet". Everything's here as we would wish: the fourth in the series of Hockney paintings of a lane in the Yorkshire Wolds; a Dickens novel (David Copperfield
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this time); a Shakespeare play (less predictably, it's The winter's Tale!); a forgotten artist we should have known about but didn't (Italian painter, film-maker and novelist Lorenza Mazzetti); and an unexpected footnote of history: Einstein in Norfolk.

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.
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LibraryThing member lauralkeet
With Summer, Ali Smith wraps up her seasonal quartet that began with Autumn, published in 2016. The plots are contemporary and topical, often referencing current events at the time of publication. Brexit and immigration are recurring themes, and the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic has an impact on plot
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developments in Summer. While each novel can stand alone, connections are cleverly introduced and discovering them enhances the reading experience.

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.
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LibraryThing member alexrichman
When it’s good, it’s very very good, but the other bits...! Smith’s distinctive style throughout the quartet has made her easy to parody, and there are so many characters by this point that the drifting between narratives is rather hard to follow. Doesn’t hang together well, in my opinion,
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but there are enough fine vignettes to remind you of the author’s class.
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LibraryThing member steve02476
I think maybe I liked this one the best of the four. A bit more “accessible” perhaps. Lots of cool, somewhat intersecting stories, past and present, and I kind of wanted more from each. A lot of great characters and some interesting WW2-era history about detention camps in the UK. Sad note,
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this is the first novel I’ve read that has mentioned stuff about the COVID pandemic - it’s definitely part of the plot. Publication date was August 2020 so she must’ve still been writing in March or even April. I think you could really like “Summer” without having read the others, and I’m not sure at all there’d be any harm in reading them out of order.

Listened to the audiobook.
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LibraryThing member CarltonC
A novel novel, about a broken family, about truth, about social media, about the climate crisis, about immigration, about the novel coronavirus pandemic and many other things.
The lightness of play with words and their multiple meanings.
The book links back to the stories told and characters in the
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previous books in this quartet.
This book looks forward to the future.
This novel makes me look afresh, again.
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LibraryThing member DrFuriosa
I think I'm destined to spend the rest of my life thinking about this stunning quartet of books and wondering: (a) how did Ali Smith write something so fast FOUR TIMES; and (b) how do these super-relevant books contain such beauty amidst such sorrow? Summer is a novel about COVID-19, but it is
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about so much more than that. There is death but also life, isolation but community, sorrow and unbelievable joy. And summer. Always summer.

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.
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LibraryThing member RandyMetcalfe
Sacha is a precocious teenager moved by the plight of the environment, both physical and social. Her younger brother, Robert, is even more precocious. He is moved by reading about Einstein, and curiously, his ties with his sister, whom he somewhat tortures. Their parents are separated but living
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next door to each other. They took opposing sides in the Brexit vote and, rather like Britain and Europe, they remain adjacent even after they leave. (A bit on the nose there, but that’s okay.) Charlotte and Arthur are rather like brother and sister, though they were once much more. Their connection to Sacha and Robert is at first tenuous but they become ever more entangled. And their entanglements will lead them to Daniel, who is now one hundred and four years old. But he too once had a sister, now lost in the mists of time.

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.

Gently recommended.
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LibraryThing member arubabookwoman
"Whatever age you are, you still die young...."

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
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Ali Smith's Seasonal Quartet were independent of one another. The first I read was Winter, the second in the series, which I found okay, but which did not compel me to read the others in the series. But this came my way, and I read it, and I was blown away. This is the last in the series, so I guess it is the one that ties it all together. I will say that some of the characters from Winter reappear in Summer, so my recommendation is to read them in order, starting with Autumn.

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.

Highly recommended.
5 stars
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LibraryThing member AliceaP
The conclusion of the Seasonal Quartet in many ways delivered exactly as I hoped it would but in other ways it fell somewhat short. I had heard that it was important to read these in order because previous characters make a reappearance in this final volume which is true but my favorite two didn't
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which I admit did disappoint me somewhat.

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.
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LibraryThing member jphamilton
All through Autumn, Winter, and Spring, I was completely captivated by this literary experiment into writing loosely, and publishing relatively quickly and timely. With Summer, the last season of Ali Smith’s quartet, I was at a loss as to why I wasn’t as purely addicted as I was to the previous
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three. Maybe it seemed too much like something ”ripped from the headlines,” and I was discounting it, or I just found the times depicted just too damn depressing. The horrors of COVID were just starting to appear on some people’s radar screens (the story starts in February of 2020), George Floyd’s name is dropped, and Brexit has long settled in as a topic. One review spoke of, “a somberness to this volume that even Smith's characteristic compassion and brainy playfulness can't quite mitigate.” Or just maybe, though she brought back some of the familiar characters from the other books, I had just had enough of Smith’s long seasonal journey to the darkness of Summer.

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.
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LibraryThing member PatsyMurray
Smith's books always amuse and make you wonder. She is like Emily Dickinson, looking at life aslant.
LibraryThing member LynnB
I've read the seasonal quartet over a period of several years and feel like I should read them again all together. Maybe I will because I love the writing style; the stories that slip past each other; and the way the author looks at complex issues without necessarily making them the centre of the
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story. I like her complex characters who are so very real.

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.
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LibraryThing member cbl_tn
The final novel in Smith’s seasonal quartet unites and completes the set. Like the previous three novels in the set, its themes include politics, immigration, family, love, loss, language, and the visual arts. It’s the first fiction I’ve read that speaks to the COVID-19 pandemic. Each novel
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in the quartet reflects on the work of a 20th-century female visual artist, with Italian filmmaker Lorenza Mazzetti as the featured artist in this book.

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.
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LibraryThing member JBD1
A worthy and fitting closing installment to this timely and fascinating series. Typical and still-delightful wordplay and imagination from Smith.
LibraryThing member therebelprince
This series has been a balm for my soul, and no doubt for the souls of many others devastated by the 21st century's rapid embrace of hatred, division, cronyism, lies, mistruths, financial inequality, social inequality, political inequality, irrational and poorly thought-out arguments, and anything
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else that sees kindness and reason as unnecessary barriers on the path ahead.

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.
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LibraryThing member msf59
“The briefest and slipperiest of the seasons, the one that won't be held to account - because summer won't be held at all, except in bits, fragments, moments, flashes of memory...”

This is a tough one to summarize. It is loosely about 2 pairs of siblings, from the past and the present and how
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they all connect. It is a highly ambitious novel, that touches on so many themes. It was sometimes hard to keep up with her swift, intelligent mind and stellar writing. I am so glad I finally got to Summer, the last of her Seasonal Trilogy. It is an excellent read. I just wish I could have read them closer together, since I had forgotten the characters that pop up in all 4 books. It looks like I may have to do a revisit.
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Women's Prize for Fiction (Longlist — 2021)
Orwell Prize (Winner — 2021)
BookTube Prize (Octofinalist — Fiction — 2021)
Europese Literatuurprijs (Longlist — 2021)


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