Summer by Ali Smith review – clear-sighted finale to a dazzling quartet
“Summer,” says a character in Ali Smith’s new novel, “is really an imagined end. We head for it instinctually like it must mean something.” Smith’s quartet of seasonal novels has also been heading for summer. Beginning with Autumn in 2016, they have arrived punctually, one per year, each in its eponymous season and as close to the events described as possible. The project has been an attempt to narrow the gap not only between a novel’s conception and its publication, but between art and the reality it consumes in order to produce itself.
One rule of thumb would have it that the smaller the gap, the lesser the art. Can any novel produced at such lightning pace possibly be good? Summer provides a cheeky nod to this inevitable question. Devotees of the series will recognise Daniel Gluck as its moral centre; in this novel he writes to his sister Hannah about life in a British internment camp during the second world war. His fellow detainees have been debating this very issue: “Should The Artist Portray His Age? ... And you would be so proud of me because I spoke up and said but what about the artist portraying her own age, and when I did I was nearly laughed out of the room … ”
Smith’s dazzling experiment in simultaneity has pointedly thumbed its nose at rules of thumb. The result is indeed a maestra’s portrait of her age, a project at once staggeringly ambitious and entirely of a piece with a quarter-century ...
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