‘Spring’ by Ali Smith

2019, 336 p (large font)

As the name suggests, Spring, the third book in the Seasonal Quartet, has more ‘oomph’ than the earlier two books Autumn and Winter. There are themes and approaches that run across the three books that I have read so far – the work of an artist, political monologues, the play on words – but this book seemed more plot-driven, more directly political and more physically active than the other two.

The artist in this case is Tacita Dean and the painting is ‘The Montafon Letter’ (you can see it here), a huge chalk-on-slate drawing of an avalanche hurtling down a mountain. After seeing it in an exhibition, Richard Lease, a TV and film director, sent a postcard of the drawing to his friend, Paddy (Patricia Heal) who was dying. Paddy has now died and Richard, bereft and distraught, feels that there is nothing more to live for and resolves to take his own life too. His attempt is interrupted by a woman – Brittany (Brit for short) who works as a guard in a refugee detention centre, and a young girl, only ever referred to as ‘the girl’, a preternaturally sharp child who reminded me of Greta Thunberg in her ability to speak up to power. The narrative switches between the present day interaction between Richard, Brit and ‘the girl’, and the approaching death of Paddy. The literary by-play is present here too, with Richard contracted to direct a TV program with a dire script based on Katherine Mansfield and Rilke staying in the same hotel, oblivious to each other’s work and presence.

There is much more political anger in this book, a bit like the avalanche in the Tacita Dean drawing. In Autumn it was Brexit; in Winter it was Trump, and now in Spring, it is England’s refugee detention program (if Smith really wants to get angry, she should look at the ‘Australian model’ that Donald Trump thought so worthy of emulation). It is more overtly preachy, and the book is more plot-driven.

All of which makes me wonder where Smith is going to end up with Summer, which is the next book off the pile after I finish my bookgroup read. I’m conscious of little cross-references between the books, and I really hope that all four are eventually published together because it would make seeking the connections easier. I do wonder, as I always do with series like this that are published with years between each volume, whether readers taking them up year after year would be as aware of the connections as I am while reading them with mere weeks between each book.

Anyway, let the year continue…

My rating: 7.5/10

Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library (which is also making the connections harder to trace, as I no longer have all the completed books at my fingertips)

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