‘Summer’ by Ali Smith

2020, 379 pages in large font

There! I’ve finished the whole quartet. I must admit that I really wanted to enjoy this multi-volume work. I liked the idea of it being written in real-time, and I enjoy series that have an over-arching shape, as well as the detail of the component works. But, I have to admit, I was a bit disappointed.

I had expected there to be more integration between the four books, but the previous three were only loosely connected – indeed, so loosely connected that you wondered whether you had imagined the inter-relationships. I sat up and started taking more notice in this book, once the connections were more overt. “Am I getting too old to read books like this?” I wondered, as I found myself having to flip back pages or dig out reviews of the earlier books (or the actual book if I had it) to remind myself who characters were, and how they fitted into the story. I can imagine that the problem would be further magnified if you read them over four years, instead of over a few months as I have done.

New characters were introduced in this final volume: a rather unlovely brother (Robert) and sister (Sacha) Greenlaw, who live with their mother Grace, while their father lives next door with his new partner Ashley, who has stopped speaking. Characters from the earlier books reappear, but now in a different timespan. Daniel Gluck and his neighbour Elizabeth pop in from Autumn, while Art (in Nature) and Charlotte from Winter make another appearance. Then there is the ubiquitous SA4A security firm, which lurks in the background, refugees, Brexit- and now the Australian bushfires as well as COVID. (My stomach sinks at the thought of all the books that are going to be written with COVID and lockdown as their premise. Oh spare me.) As with the other books, there is a dual (and often triple) narrative being worked out, separated in time, with Summer featuring WWII and the plight of interned ‘enemy aliens’ and resistance workers. Once again, we have another female artist- this time the film-maker Lorenza Mazzetti- and the Shakespeare play this time is A Winters Tale.

There is beautiful writing in this book, and eminently quotable political commentary but it still felt very heavy-handed. Having read all four, I think that they would be best read one straight after the other in order to pick up on the links and connections, although I don’t really know that the prospect particularly appeals to me.

This is not a multi-volume saga like Naguib Mahfouz’s Cairo Trilogy, or the Poldark series. Family does not lie at its basis, although networks and connections and kindness are important. The politics is shout-ier, and the books crackle with current events (that will soon no longer be current). You sense that Ali Smith could just go on producing one volume a year forever because there is no overarching plot. I don’t begrudge the time in reading any of them, but it was not the overwhelming reading experience that I thought it would be.

My rating: 8/10 (I did like the way that the connections became more apparent)

Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library

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