Ali Smith is in deep trouble. How in the world is she going to top this with the next instalment of her Season’s Quartet? This is easily the best novel I have read this year. For me it is almost a masterpiece. I adored Autumn and didn’t think that any of the next three could be as good. I thought Winter was tremendous, but still not as good as Autumn, and then Smith gives us Spring. This book covers the zeitgeist of a fragile England, Brexit, and immigration, and at times the reader feels trapped in a melancholic miasma. However, there is a strain of hope that courses through this miasma, threatening all the time to lead the reader out to freedom.
Richard Lease is a director of television programs who has just lost his soulmate Paddy. Paddy was his scriptwriter who he had worked with for years, and he finds himself lost, directionless on a sea of doubt after her death. He eventually finds himself at a train station on the tracks lowering his head onto the rail before he is stopped by a young schoolgirl named Florence. With Florence is a woman named Brittany (Hmmmm 😊) who works as an officer at a detention centre. The reason this unlikely pair are together turns out to be that Brittany thinks that Florence is the young girl who walked into her detention centre, spoke with management and somehow miraculously got them to clean the toilets. Florence has taken on a form of mystical presence for Brittany. Then before Brittany realises what is happening Florence has enlisted her help to find a location on a postcard in Scotland.
The conversations that ensue between the two are quite brilliant, they talk about borders, climate change, Brexit, racism, but it is all hidden in metaphors and allegory. Richard accompanies them on this trip when they all hitch a ride with a woman named Alda who squashes them all into the cab of her coffee truck. Smith does a wonderful job with this road trip, with the conversations that take place and the multiple perspectives of the four. For instance, one chapter may be Richards perspective of a conversation he is having with Alda, and then the next chapter will jump back in time and provide the reader with the same conversation but from Brittany’s perspective listening to them. It works a charm.
All the characters, as with the other characters in Autumn and Winter are such a joy to read. Florence, even though Richard is the central character, for me is the star of the book, sensational.
This is a book about politics, with politics seeping into just about every story, but the way Smith has written this novel, you never notice, you are more focussed on the personal level of the current story, and there are some good ones. I particularly like the one about the tribe who sacrifice a young virgin each year to compel the gods to start the new cycle of life. Hints of feminism, as the girl refuses to be sacrificed. Why does the sacrifice have to be a woman? It could easily be argued that a man could be sacrificed in place. A man’s seed starts the cycle of life as well. There is also a reference to a movie where the male star is remembered but nobody remembers the female lead.
Smith masterfully fits so much into this amazing novel. There is a short chapter in there devoted to online bullying which Smith just throws in there and pulls it off I might add. I admit that there are parts that I have not grasped completely but will be more than happy to return to it again to try to glean a deeper understanding.
Favourite book this year easily. 5 stars.
Ali Smith is a writer, born in Inverness, Scotland, to working-class parents. She was raised in a council house in Inverness and now lives in Cambridge. She studied at Aberdeen, and then at Cambridge, for a Ph.D. that was never finished. In a 2004 interview with writing magazine Mslexia, she talked briefly about the difficulty of becoming ill with chronic fatigue syndrome for a year and how it forced her to give up her job as a lecturer at University of Strathclyde to focus on what she really wanted to do: writing. She has been with her partner Sarah Wood for 17 years and dedicates all her books to her.
Here is a link to Penguin with an interview with Ali talking about Spring and Hope - https://www.penguin.co.uk/articles/2019/mar/ali-smith-interview-on-spring.html