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Summer (2020)

by Ali Smith

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Seasonal (4)

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5933239,839 (4.04)107
"In the present, Sacha knows the world's in trouble. Her brother Robert just is trouble. Their mother and father are having trouble. Meanwhile, the world's in meltdown--and the real meltdown hasn't even started yet. In the past, a lovely summer. A different brother and sister know they're living on borrowed time. This is a story about people on the brink of change. They're family, but they think they're strangers. So: Where does family begin? And what do people who think they've got nothing in common have in common? Summer"--… (more)

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English (27)  Dutch (2)  Catalan (1)  Norwegian (1)  All languages (31)
Showing 1-5 of 27 (next | show all)
It's good, and a quick read, but it didn't blow me away. I felt the same way with the rest of the books in the series. They all have the same rhythm and style, having been written back to back this is expected, and I'm sure they'll come out in an omnibus edition soon. It really is a single, long novel.

They way I feel about the book, and again, the series as a whole, is conflicted. On the one hand, I'm not a big fan of the style overall, which is of a piece with what one could call the contemporary literary novel style. Specifically to this novel, my main problem was the constant punning and wordplay, which I like most of the time, but here is constant and loses its effect (the wonder of language) through constant and repeated use. The other aspect about it is what I call "unearned lyricism," that the attempt to add lyrical weight to lines and moments that I feel haven't earned it organically, but rather only read well and deep superficially, very much like magazine copy. Sometimes, of course, it is actually earned, and this work well, as in any novel.
And I say conflicted because, on the other hand, despite my issues with this style, it has a way of creating vivid and durable mental images, which is a direct result from the style itself. For example, when characters from the previous novels are introduced, and I couldn't remember who they were and what they did, with little mental effort I was able to recalle their identities and stories, because of the indelible images they left when reading the previous books; like for example Daniel Gluck with his neighbor, Arthur and Charlotte at his aunt house, Arthur with the same aunt at Greenham, etc.
All that to say, I don't like the style, meaning it's not what I look for in novel, contemporary or otherwise, but it undeniable works. (If you DO enjoy this style, then this is a very good example of it)

Another conflicting, contradictory thing was the characterization. They speak very similarly to each other, but at the same it's not hard to keep track of who's saying what, addled by the identity markers (male child, female child, male adult, female adult 1, female adult 2, etc). The kids speak like adults, and the adults speak like writers (only two of them are actual writers in-universe). It's not that I don't believe that these type of people exist, since it's a very small sample, but it is harder to believe that they would all find and hang around each other.

Now, about the plot. The first section, set in summer 2020, did a good job in piquing my interest, introducing the new characters, and left me wanting to know what happens. However, the momentum is completely gone by the middle sections, the extended flashbacks of Daniel with his father while detained and Daniel's sister Hanna years through the war. They were compelling and well written, but they dragged for me; the whole time I wanted to go back to Grace and her kid's plot, and see what's next for them. Obviously, this is not a that kind of plot-central book, so I really couldn't fault it for this, and although the same device is used in all the other books, the transition from modern day to the past was jarring, and I really wanted to be it over quick.

You will read in the press about the book and in the other reviews that this novel is about, or covers the pandemic, possibly the first one. It really doesn't. (It really is about, you know, summer and the passage of time). The covidness and brexitness of it all isn't central to the plot, but rather something that pervades the atmosphere. In this sense it takes a naturalist point of view of showing how the characters react to both events as fait accompli. Smith is clearly (justifiable) pissed-off about Brexit, and its glaring and obvious negative effects. This view is stated explicitly through dialogue and narrative. But again, it's not something constant, but something hanging in the air.
So I wouldn't call it a "Covid novel" or a "Brexit novel" for this reason. As it is, it feels like a cameo of sorts. There are mentions of Shakespeare and Newton, who we all now know were very productive during their lockdowns, and are destined to become staples of the Covid novel, (as well as Camus) if it such thing emerges at all. I feel like they (the author and editors) should've waited a few months to see how if it changed anything. Maybe she will write a sequel or an afterword in the omnibus.

I really like the final section of the book, with Charlotte and Iris dealing with the first weeks of lockdown. The image of her lying on her bed paralized by the new state of affairs is one of those images I was talking about, and if it were extended to novel length is one I'd like to read

Lastly, this was the first book of the series I read while in the season the books is set it, having read the others in late spring/early summer of 2019. Summer, where I'm at, has been particularly hellish, averaging 30° every day, so I really, really couldn't relate with the constant paeans to the summertime in the book. Summer sucks right now. ( )
  avv999 | Feb 16, 2024 |
Man, what a brilliant end to the seasons books. I've loved most of them and just really love Ali Smith's style. I think it's hard to describe and I can easily see why some people would be put off by it. Like there's a tendency to political commentary that I agree with but is pretty blunt and quite shallow. Her characters are regularly saying clever, meaningful things. And yet in the overall story both are turned into virtues - the blunt politics is also subtly and brilliantly threaded throughout everything else. Somehow the characters who sometimes talk unrealistically are instantly recognisable as very real people with depth of thought that you can remember from your own experience without being caricatures. The language is usually easy to read and direct and still feels like it's deep and complex and touching on so many feelings. The overall impression is of a simple, easy to understand direct surface yet as soon as you think even a little bit you suddenly start to see all the ways everything is interweaved within her writing and appreciate the beauty that she's constantly communicating. And this particular book wraps up the stories of the last 3 novels in a beautiful way, in a dialogue with them. Idk dude I'm bad at writing about stuff I like. It's just good. ( )
  tombomp | Oct 31, 2023 |
This series has been a balm for my soul, and no doubt for the souls of many others devastated by the 21st century's rapid embrace of hatred, division, cronyism, lies, mistruths, financial inequality, social inequality, political inequality, irrational and poorly thought-out arguments, and anything else that sees kindness and reason as unnecessary barriers on the path ahead.

Summer is a fitting conclusion. While I can only award the individual novel 4 stars, the series as a whole certainly deserves 5.

The books are certainly filled with despair and fear, with that vertiginous feeling constantly rattling in the brains of those of us who know our history, utterly bewildered that all this can happen over and over again, and yet not surprised at all. Smith captures characters who cannot quite connect, who cannot quite see past their own worldviews to peer inside the minds of others. Yet, she also offers hope.

That hope has become harder to find, not just during the apocalyptic year of 2020, but during the entirety of my lifetime, the apex of the neoliberal movement. Smith's series is not an instruction manual, not a solution. Rather it is like the songs we sing in the darkness, to remind ourselves that we are not alone. It is a battle cry, or a gospel hymn. It reminds us that we are more than our worst selves. Like the late Shakespeare plays which are referenced frequently throughout the four volumes, Smith suggests that there is still magic in the web, that humans still have the capacity to overcome the dark times we have created, and metamorphose them into something rich and strange. ( )
  therebelprince | Oct 24, 2023 |
I think maybe I liked this one the best of the four. A bit more “accessible” perhaps. Lots of cool, somewhat intersecting stories, past and present, and I kind of wanted more from each. A lot of great characters and some interesting WW2-era history about detention camps in the UK. Sad note, this is the first novel I’ve read that has mentioned stuff about the COVID pandemic - it’s definitely part of the plot. Publication date was August 2020 so she must’ve still been writing in March or even April. I think you could really like “Summer” without having read the others, and I’m not sure at all there’d be any harm in reading them out of order.

Listened to the audiobook. ( )
1 vote steve02476 | Jan 3, 2023 |
A worthy and fitting closing installment to this timely and fascinating series. Typical and still-delightful wordplay and imagination from Smith. ( )
  JBD1 | Jul 11, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 27 (next | show all)
Like its two predecessors in Smith's acclaimed Seasonal Quartet (Autumn and Winter), this dynamic novel captures the many turmoils of life in the contemporary U.K. through ecstatic language and indirect narrative collisions. The first third, set mostly on a Scottish train platform, concerns Richard Lease, an over-the-hill TV and film director mourning his recently deceased collaborator, Paddy. Rife with nuanced reflections on the nature of art and mourning, Richard's ruminative section is the book's most immediate and engaging. After Richard lowers himself into the path of an oncoming train, readers meet his would-be rescuer, Brit, a security guard at a migrant detention facility. Brit has been lured into an impromptu journey by Florence, a pseudo-messianic young girl seemingly capable of inspiring empathy in even the darkest of hearts. The three mismatched characters are soon traveling together, on their way to an old battlefield where the violences of yesteryear and the present day will converge. As was the case with Autumn and Winter, the novel's setting is its foremost strength and increasingly enervating flaw, leading to writing that alternately astounds and exasperates. About three-quarters of the way through the third quarter of this series, the book's most memorable character, Richard, provides a relevant description of the whole enterprise, a response for every season: Gimmicky, but impressive all the same.
added by VivienneR | editPublisher's Weekly (Jan 26, 2022)

» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ali Smithprimary authorall editionscalculated
Hockney, DavidCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Juliette BurtonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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It was a summer's night and they were

talking, in the big room with the windows

open to the garden, about the cesspool.

Virginia Woolf
Lord keep my memory green!

Charles Dickens
However vast the darkness

we must supply our own light.

Stanly Kubrick
I thought of that person,

him or her, as taking me to a country

far high sunny where I knew to be happy

was only a moment, a puttering flame in her fireplace

but burning all the misery to cinders

if it could, a sift of dross like what we mourn for

as caskets sink with horrifying blandness

into a roar, tino smoke, into light, into almost nothing.

The not quite nothing I praise it and I write it.

Edward Morgan
Oh, she's warm!

William Shakespeare
for my sister

Maree Morrison

Anne MacLeod
my friends

Paul Bailey

Bridget Hannigan
to keep in mind

my friend

Sarah Daniel
and for

my huckleberry friend

Sarah Wood
First words
Everybody said: so?
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Publisher's editors
Original language
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Canonical LCC

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Wikipedia in English


"In the present, Sacha knows the world's in trouble. Her brother Robert just is trouble. Their mother and father are having trouble. Meanwhile, the world's in meltdown--and the real meltdown hasn't even started yet. In the past, a lovely summer. A different brother and sister know they're living on borrowed time. This is a story about people on the brink of change. They're family, but they think they're strangers. So: Where does family begin? And what do people who think they've got nothing in common have in common? Summer"--

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