Review: Summer by Ali Smith

“… summer’s surely really all about an imagined end. We head for it instinctually like it must mean something. We’re always looking for it, looking to it, heading towards it all year, the way a horizon holds the promise of a sunset.”

I’d some reticence discussing Ali Smith’s “Summer,” given it’s the climactic novel in her Seasonal Quartet, and I’m unable to perceive it in totality, since I’ve only read “Winter,” and reviewing it piecemeal feels akin to examining an individual stone in a cathedral rather than its entirety. But when a stone is sculptured this magnificently, it’s worthy of close inspection. But where to start?

“Summer” is a novel of our times, almost up-to-the-minute; it’s 2020, Brexit has fractured Britain, Australia has suffered through cataclysmic bushfires, the young across the world are rallying against corporate greed and government ineptitude regarding the climate crisis decimating the planet, and we’re beginning to feel the effects of COVID-19. One of the book’s central characters, 16-year-old Sacha Greenlaw, surmises it best: “All manner of virulent things are happening.” Paralleling Smith’s snapshot of our present is her magnification of a slither of the past, which is a lesson for today. In the 1940s, during wartime, Britain detained “enemy aliens,” Daniel Gluck and his father among them, who at the age of 104 lives in a thunderstorm of memories.

“Summer” is the culmination of an extraordinary four year project, where sublots and characters collide in obvious and subtle ways, of which I recognised only a handful. Together, Smith’s Season Quartet represents a literary blockbuster: a portrait of worldwide tumultuousness somehow astonishingly exacerbated by her focus on smaller, individual stories.

I read “Summer” because I was assured it was a great novel by readers I trust, and that trust was validated. I will read “Summer” a second time because I know I have not mastered it; for that, I’ll need to go back to “Autumn,” “Winter” and “Spring.” The third time will be because I want to, pure and simple. I believe it will be a book — a quartet of novels — I return to, time and time again, for the rest of my life.

ISBN: 9780241207079
Format: Paperback
Number Of Pages: 400
Published: 4th August 2020
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd