Spring by Ali Smith (Hamish Hamilton)


“Now what we don’t want is Facts”

THE first two of this potential quartet – Autumn and Winter –  were pleasant if not totally convincing as the contemporary novel of weight and import. This on the other hand opens with a stream of vicious double thinking vitriol which ring  many bells. And then puts its foot hard on the accelerator. We are on the cusp of two eras. Sorry, three, or maybe four. Who knows? Three or four interwoven stories too.  It is now, or as now as a novel can be. Maplins is closing down. It is Tuesday in October 2018. After the event, which was April of the title, so in fact published in April 2019. Very neat and very tidy. Even a heroine is called Brit, after Brittany, not Britney.

The same device of the string of vitriol as in the opening is repeated later with a sinister, ominous list of permissions. You are welcome. Of course. Thank you.

The plot and characters have nothing seemingly to do with the first books – as neither did they with each other – but here Smith has grasped fully what she is trying to achieve. And she packs a punch.

The plot is masterfully crafted to the extent that details might be deemed spoilers. One tease: man throws his mobile phone away at Euston Station…fill that out as a start point for 335 pages. No, that is too dry. Smith massages her characters to life, even the ones on the sides, so you read in the comfort of knowing you are meeting people of interest. You might get a good party going with a cast of her characters. An immersive experience, indeed.  So our man and his phone are fleshed out warmly, even vicariously through his friend and the ambiguous twins and through her a little literary interest in a couple of authors from another time. With other voices. Who are being revived…

I am speaking in riddles, in abstracts. She is incredibly tight in her writing, tiny deliberate slashes of colours.

“A door opens. She goes through it.

Then Brit’s shift is over.

She could leave.

She went for the train.”

Such simplification bundles the plot along and mixes with more elegant descriptions:

“March…the cold shoulder of spring. Month of the kind of blossom that could still be snow, month of the papery unsheathing of the heads of the daffodils.”

Her sense of place – a Victorian pillar here, a mountain there –  is filled in with a light meaningful touch, as is her sense of humour like the woman in a sleeping bag who opens the coffee shop without anything to sell. This is not just good, it is very good, as the Imaginary Daughter might have corrected him.

Then half way through we shoot off into a parallel contemporary social commentary bound together by a sense of the now of today’s politics. The signposts of familiar contemporary debate – homeless on the streets, fake news, climate change, detention centres, immigration – are all there, as too are almost Grecian style choruses. Is that Nature talking to us? But there is a unifier, unlikely, magical, a small girl, a hope if you read it that way…and some magic.

“Is she magic? Or in need of magic? Is she jealous? Is she enchanted? Is she lost in the wood, young and foolish and about to learn a lesson?”

Psycho-intellectual? Tick. Very Brainy. Tick. But accessible.

As in the other books, there is a heavy reliance on popular culture, so we even get a mention of a panharmonicon, an instrument devised for Beethoven, but also, note, an internet card for a game. And Tacitas Dean. And a pub quiz of Play for Today’s and other novels because at its heart one explanation is that this novel is about the creative process, the creative decision making and is a new work in progress in parallel. Or you could say it is about communication. This all works beautifully on more than one level. There is a hint, a single one I think, that maybe a fourth book will somehow manifest itself as a collective conclusion which would be a double triumph. But his can stand on its own, whatever.




About drewsmith28

Words, words, words...
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