Ali Smith – Summer

Ali Smith – Summer

The seasonal quartet comes to a conclusion with “Summer” which is set in the troubling spring of 2020. Teenagers Sacha and Robert know about the problems the planet faces, not just the virus which locks them down, but climate change, the refugee crisis, Brexit and the unreliability of media and the political class make them ponder about the times they are living in. But it is not only the big issues that trouble the siblings, also the typical quarrels of brother and sister and their parents’ separation occupy their minds. But other times, too, challenged people and nevertheless lead to great outcomes.

Once more, just like in her former novels, not only the ones belonging to the quartet, there is so much in it which makes it really difficult to review. Many aspects mentioned are worth commenting on, in the first place, Ali Smith’s writing, again, is simply marvellous, the way she uses language in this specific novel also moves to a metalevel discussing words and the ability to express oneself also without using oral language. In a times when words are misused to blind and mislead people – some doing this even quite overtly – you have to become even more careful with what you say and easily realise that maybe the language as we know and use it is not enough anymore.

I really adored her characters in this novel, first and foremost Robert, even though he also behaves, quite typical for his age, nasty at times. He is on the brink of losing his childish innocence, clever as he is, he asks questions and investigates and even though only 13 years old, can brilliantly analyse the politicians’ deceit. When investigating Einstein, a mastermind he admires for his scientific achievement, he also becomes aware of the fact that sometimes, people can have two sides at the same time which might be difficult to bring together.

Topics which were addressed in the former parts are now picked up again and thus, “Summer” forms a perfect conclusion. Even with the sheer mass of big problems, Smith’s novel provides hope, especially with the young generation portrayed here. They are heroes and have the capacity of making a change. For Sacha, climate activists, NHS workers and Black Lives Matter protesters are heroes according to her definition:

“I have a vision that the modern sense of being a hero is like shining a bright light on things that need to be seen. I guess that if someone does this it brings its own consequences.”

In her understanding, everybody can become a hero, we only have to start.

Ali Smith – Spring

ali smith spring
Ali Smith – Spring

Just as the years moves on so does Ali Smith with the third volume of her seasonal quartet. Now, its spring time, the time of the year between death and re-birth, between the end and a new beginning. A promising time, but also a time which can surprise and is hard to foresee. This time, we meet Richard, an elderly filmmaker who is still shaken by his former colleague and friend Patricia Heal’s death. He remembers his last visits when she was already between here and there. Richard is standing on a train platform with clearly suicidal intentions when a girl and a custody officer rush by. Florence and Brittany are headed for a place which they assume somewhere in Scotland, on their journey this unusual couple also addresses the big questions of life and humanity which Brittany can hardly find in the prison she works where the detainees are dehumanised and not even granted the least bit of privacy.

Just like the two novels before in this quartet, Ali Smith captures the mood of the country at a very critical point. In my opinion, “Spring” is absolutely outstanding since it has several layers of narrative, it is philosophical, literary, sociological, psychological, political – an eclectic mix of thoughts and notions that come together or rather have to be put together by the reader. While, on the one hand, being were close to an archaic understanding of the concept of time and the natural course of a year, there are many references to artists and the imaginary world.

Underlying the whole novel is a certain despair – Richard’s grieve, Britt’s disillusion with her job, Florence’s detachedness from humans which makes her almost invisible – in a time of political shaky times: Brexit, migration crisis, an overall suspicion in society about what (social) media and politics tell them and more importantly what they do not tell. Will there come a summer?  And if so, what will it be like? As spring always is a new beginning, something might be overcome or left behind and something has the chance to flourish, at least the hope remains.

I found it a bit harder this time to find my way in the novel, therefore, “Autumn” remains my favourite so far and I am quite impatient to see, what “Summer” will bring.

Ali Smith – Herbst

Ali Smith – Herbst

Der Sommer verabschiedet sich, geht zu Ende, wie auch das Leben von Daniel Gluck langsam aus ihm verschwindet. Mit 101 Jahren hat er viel erlebt und verbringt nun die Tage schlafend im Pflegeheim. Elisabeth besucht ihn dort regelmäßig, um ihm vorzulesen. Sie ist nicht seine Enkelin wie die Pflegerinnen denken, nicht einmal mit ihm verwandt, als Kind wohnten sie und ihre Mutter neben dem damals schon alten Mann und er hat auf ihren Spaziergängen nicht nur ihre Phantasie beflügelt, sondern auch ihre Liebe zu Kunst und Literatur geweckt. Vielleicht ist es gut, dass er nicht mehr sieht, wie sich die Welt verändert, nicht nur der Sommer muss weichen, sondern auch das England, das sie kannten. Das Land, das ihn einst aufgenommen hat und das nun vom Brexit gezeichnet und gespalten ist.

Ali Smiths Roman ist der erste Band eines nach den Jahreszeiten benannten Zyklus, der die Stimmung eines zerrissenen Landes mit einer ausdrucksstarken Poetik einfängt. Sie hat sich damit nicht nur endgültig in die Riege der ganz großen zeitgenössischen britischen Autorinnen katapultiert, sondern wurde hierfür auch auf der Shortlist für den Man Booker Prize 2017 honoriert.

Aus Charles Dickens‘ „Tale of Two Cities“ liest Elisabeth dem schlafenden Daniel vor. Passender als in Analogie zu der berühmten Anfangspassage des mehr als 150 Jahre alten Romans kann man die Stimmung in Großbritannien seit dem Referendum kaum zusammenfassen:

 „Im ganzen Land fanden die Leute, es sei das Falsche. Im ganzen Land fanden die Leute, es sei das Richtige. Im ganzen Land fanden die Leute, sie hätten eigentlich verloren. Im ganzen Land fanden die Leute, sie hätten eigentlich gewonnen. Im ganzen Land fanden die Leute, sie hätten das Richtige und andere hätten das Falsche getan.“

Elisabeth stellt sich jedoch nicht nur die Frage, in welcher Zeit sie lebt, sondern was Zeit überhaupt ist, ist eines der zentralen Rätsel des Romans. Ebenso wie jenes nach der Wahrheit, die die Protagonistin schon als Grundschulmädchen beschäftigt:

Es soll aber die Wahrheit sein, sagte Elisabeth. Es ist für die Nachrichten in Zeitgeschichte. Das merkt doch niemand, sagte ihre Mutter. Erfinde es selber. Die richtigen Nachrichten sind sowieso immer erfunden. Die richtigen Nachrichten sind nicht erfunden, sagte Elisabeth. Es sind Nachrichten. Über das Thema sprechen wir noch mal, wenn du ein bisschen älter bist, sagte ihre Mutter.“

Nachdem sie jahrelang den Kontakt zu Daniel Gluck verloren hatte, leben nun mit den Besuchen im Krankenhaus auch die Erinnerungen an ihre gemeinsamen Nachmittage wieder auf. Noch einmal wird sie das neugierige und wissbegierige Kind, das durch die Augen des weisen Mannes blicken und die Welt erkunden darf.

„Irgendetwas solltest du immer lesen, sagte er. Auch wenn du kein Buch in der Hand hast. Wie sollen wir die Welt sonst ergründen?“

Ist noch zu verstehen, was in England gerade geschieht? Können die Nachrichten die Stimmung einfangen und transportieren? Man sollte nicht so weit gehen wie Elisabeths Mutter, die sie als erfunden abstempelt, aber sie sind selektiv, arrangiert und mit einer gewissen Intention aufbereitet. Bleibt also nur noch die Literatur, um die Wahrheit der Welt zu ergründen? Zumindest eine Wahrheit, die der Figuren, die uns Ali Smith präsentiert. Sie könnte auch ganz anders sein, das wäre dann aber eine andere Geschichte.

Ali Smith – The Accidental

Ali Smith – The Accidental

A hot summer in England. The Smart family have rented a house where one day beautiful Amber turns up. Father Michael sees in her first one of the students with whom he regularly has affairs. His wife Eve seems to know about his infidelities but she does not comment on it. In Amber, she sees the woman she is not and she re-assesses the decisions she has made in her life. The daughter Astrid is intrigued by this young woman from whom she can learn so much, especially things like shoplifting, something she has never dreamt of before. Teenager Magnus is somewhere between being a child and an adult – Amber agilely introduces him to the later. They all bond with this fascinating girl, not foreboding what she will do to them.

Ali Smith’s novel has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2005. I can see why, she has a capacity of using and playing with language which you can rarely find. The different styles she can offer in only one single book is just incredible, especially her sonnet interlude is remarkable. Apart from the stylistic aspects, she also very cleverly portrays how a person can capture the others’ trust, approaching them in very different ways to seduce them in different kinds. The way Amber plays with the Smart family is almost unbelievable. She can even insult them and is still loved and admired.

Nevertheless, for me the novel was a bit too experimental. Some parts rather confused me than push forward the plot. I would have preferred a story which is a bit more straightforward, even though I really liked those small episodes, memories of a time long gone and breaks from the present reality.