Summer by Ali Smith

Summer is the fourth and final novel in Ali Smith’s seasonal quartet, once again combining past and present and punning language to explore different episodes with current relevance. In this one, the climate crisis, COVID-19, internment camps, and Einstein are all important, along with the previous recurring themes of immigration and detention centres, and of family and divides. The modern day narrative starts with Sacha and her brother Robert live in Brighton, where Sacha wants to change the world and Robert seems to delight in upsetting it, and their parents have split up but live next door to each other. After this, the narrative jumps to the 1940s, and then continues to move around different character’s stories to bring things together.

The main question I had going into Summer was whether it would feature coronavirus, considering how up to date the other ones were, and it does, though doesn’t focus on it extensively. From reading other comments about it, it is apparent that there’s a lot of recurring things and characters from the previous three books, though the only one I noticed was the security firm that run the detention centres, as it’s a while since I’ve read the others. Overall, I found this one harder to get into than the others—I enjoyed the start in the present day, but as the narrative moved around, I couldn’t keep track of who people were or why they mattered. Possibly it would’ve been better to read immediately after rereading the other three, as then it would’ve likely felt like a kind of conclusion or coming together, so this might be one only for people who’ve read (and remember well) the other seasonal novels.

After reading all four, I think Spring was my favourite, and this one didn’t feel like it went anywhere. However, it did feature a lot of expected Ali Smith elements and it was nice to have a book that picked up on some of the political concerns of COVID-19 without being a ‘pandemic’ novel. The whole quartet might be something to go back and reread further away from the ‘modern day’ that they weave in with historical narratives, and to fully appreciate how they link together.