Book Reviews

Summer by Ali Smith- the end of a journey called The Seasonal Quartet

I have always thought of the seasonal quartet as a large puzzle. One that I keep assembling, making attempts to inch closer to its completion. With every book in the quartet, one seems to take pride in completing a part of this enormous puzzle, except the first one that lays the foundation of what this game is to be. My excitement to read Summer was childlike, as I fathomed what I am going to decode next with this last part of the quartet. This collage of ideas- as I have maintained to call it- extends and incorporates anew; art, characters, and stories whilst not making us forget the old. Because the connective formed in this last leg is what keeps the reader enthralled until the end, maintaining the incredible writing that we love Ali Smith for.

Summer runs its course like a river splitting into its tributaries, narrating stories revolving around each character, bringing some from the previous parts, and adjoining them all the same. It tells the story of a brother-sister pair from the past through the lens of another in present- fresh entrees in the quartet. It is a moment of joy for the quartet devotees to see Daniel Gluck in the pages again, this time accompanied by her sister Hannah. Their conversations are mostly in the form of letters from when Daniel was in the British internment camp. Art and Charlotte make a comeback as they unite with the newbies- Robert (Einstein disciple) and Sacha (Climate change activist) to take a road trip where Grace fleetingly travels to her past through Shakespeare’s A Winter’s tale and barbed wire fence. The big mansion house from Winter solves its purpose through a noble act, but so does every character existing in this 4-part novel.

Smith has always narrowed down the distance between art and stories by giving us magnanimous artworks to marvel, which amplify the gravity of her words furthermore. They have always served as a channel to understand the story better. Smith’s tropes forming an impression on us this time is Einstein through his theories and disciple, Lorenza Manzetti’s beguiling work and spirit, and David Copperfield. Not forgetting her staple favorites- Charlie Chaplin, Dickens, and Shakespeare.

Glimpses of the complete quartet are visible in the structure of Summer, but what remains at its core this time are relationships,  amidst the themes Smith has always imbibed. From Brexit to the pandemic, the quartet has come a long way gathering adorers at the pit-stops- Autumn, Winter, and Spring- and leaving them satiated with feelings of hope and forgiveness.

As I fit the last piece of the puzzle I look at the assembled scene with mixed emotions- the joy of not being able to do everything for the first time, and the happiness of assembling it again. And as it is customary to renounce a favorite in such situations- Spring will be mine. But, Summer, it is special. For who doesn’t like a good closure.

The book review for the previous parts (Autumn, Winter, and Spring) are on my Instagram account- @nupur_flipaleaf