Summer Ali Smith gifted eARC review

(ad, gifted) Summer – Ali Smith eARC: Review & Recommend | LATEST RELEASES

I was gifted a free eARC* of this book by the publisher, via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

*eARC: electronic Advanced Readers Copy

Title: Summer
Author: Ali Smith
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton
Release Date: 6th August 2020
Genre: Literary Fiction

Summer is the finale in Ali Smith’s Seasonal Quartet, the other titles being (unsurprisingly) Autumn, Winter, and Spring. Despite being a part of a larger series, there is no need to read the series in order, or to have read the other books in the series before picking up Summer if you do not wish to. I’ve had the Seasonal Quartet on my TBR for some while, and Winter is sat on my shelf, but I have to admit I haven’t yet read any of the other books. All the books are connected thematically, and I understand that some characters recur across the quartet, but there isn’t a narrative thread that draws them all together. I think personally I would have preferred to have read the other three first so I could experience them in the order Ali Smith intended (assuming she did in fact intend to have them read in the order of publication — this may not be the case, and if anyone knows otherwise, please do correct me!), but I definitely didn’t need to have read them to follow, understand and enjoy Summer.

I’ve seen Ali Smith’s quality of writing praised over the last couple of years, and I wasn’t disappointed. The book flows really well, bridging different characters, different time periods, different perspectives without missing a beat. There were some sections that really stood out to me as beautiful prose, but there was enough balance that the beauty of the writing didn’t overshadow the actual content of the writing itself. I devoured the whole 400 page book in just two days because the writing made it so easy to just sit and read. I barely noticed the time passing until I glanced at my kindle and saw I was over 60% of the way through (I’d sat down to continue reading at 30%, and how time had flown!).

This is mostly a contemporary novel — perhaps too contemporary if anything (we’ll get to that in a minute), but as I mentioned, Smith bridges different time periods and perspectives. The historical elements are told through flashbacks, though the character is remembering them as if he is still there, in the midst of WWII. I was really intrigued by this aspect of the narrative, and I think it might be something that is also present in some of the other books, so I’d love to read more of this plot line. I really hope this plot line recurs in the earlier books, because I really want to know more! I’ve read so much WWII historical fiction, but never from the perspective of Germans in England, which is what Summer addresses.

The main issue I had with this book is how contemporary it is, as I mentioned earlier. It somehow manages to get in a reference to George Floyd, and repeated references to coronavirus and lockdown/quarantine that felt very strange to read. I felt a little uncomfortable to be honest, reading a fictionalised version of a very real, very challenging situation that we’re all currently living through.Perhaps that’s just a me thing and other readers won’t feel the same, and I am entirely willing to accept that. I just think situations like this are best considered in fiction with the benefit of hindsight which, of course, we don’t currently have. If we are to accept that the book takes place in summer, ie, at th moment, then it feels really as if coronavirus isn’t made enough of a deal out of. The children (teenaged, not primary aged) are still meant to be attending school, the family invite strangers into their home and go on a road trip with them… These events haven’t been able to happen since March, which is decidedly not summer.

The majority of the characters in this book were really interesting, and examine a lot of other contemporary political issues including Brexit and the rise of the alt-right. The son in the family at the centre of much of the novel, Robert, represents the rise of the alt-right with his extreme beliefs and frequent disagreements with his older sister, Sacha, about her climate change activism. Sacha was a really interesting character to read, and I really admired her morals. Robert, however, obviously has very different views to his sister, and also to me, but that wasn’t the reason I didn’t enjoy his character as much as the others. The main issue I had with Robert as a character was that he often felt several years older than he actually was. He was meant to be 13, but his speech and thinking were more that of an older teen, though his actions were more that of a 13 year old. Sometimes his speech patterns did read more like a young person trying to sound intellectual (“In exactement” is a favourite phrase of his), but his depth of thinking and vocabulary definitely registered more as an older teen. Unless I just am old and totally out of touch with teenagers now, but I’m only 21, and basing this off my experience of being a 13 year old!

Overall, I think I didn’t enjoy Summer as much as I expected I would because the series has been so hyped up. I totally understand the praise for Smith’s writing style, but I personally wasn’t a fan of such current events being incorporated into the book (though that is my opinion — it doesn’t make the book bad!), and I didn’t feel like Robert really worked as a thirteen year old. Had he been older I would have found his character more believable, and therefore interesting to read.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

This review also posted to The StoryGraph, GoodReads, and NetGalley.

4 thoughts on “(ad, gifted) Summer – Ali Smith eARC: Review & Recommend | LATEST RELEASES

    • Fair enough! I’m not convinced by them, but they’re well written so I’ll give the others a go and see if I get on a little better with them!

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  1. […] Summer – Ali Smith. 3.5 stars.I received an e-copy of this book from the publishers, via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.Safe to say that during lockdown, I wasn’t expecting to be reading… about lockdown. The final in the Seasons Quartet, Ali Smith’s writing is beautiful, but I have to say the references to quarantine and COVID were perhaps a bit soon for my taste. It’s very strange to be reading about a situation you’re still going through. This book does span multiple time periods though, and I did enjoy reading it! Now to read Ali Smith’s other books… Find a full review on my blog! […]

    Liked by 1 person

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