Hymns of hope: Book review of Ali Smith’s ‘Spring’

Beenish Mahmood reviews Ali Smith’s novel ‘Spring’, a narrative of identity crisis and separation

Ali Smith, a Scottish writer, published her novel Spring in 2019. Following Autumn in 2016 and Winter in 2017, Spring is a novel that deals with dark and sombre issues.

Although it talks of spring in a style and tone that is refreshing and invigorating, yet the crepuscular background the novel is placed in is frightening.

Smith rightly describes the month of spring as the month of new life, restoration, fertility and festivity.

In the last pages of the book, she sums up the beauty of the month of spring in an endearing manner, spreading out the joy and happiness it is so capable of.

‘April the anarchic, the final month of spring the great connective.’

‘Pass any flowering bush or tree and you cannot hear it, the buzz of the engine, the new life already at work in it, times factory.’

Smith touches upon several important issues such as racism, climate change and political upheavals like Brexit. The impact of these potent issues is far-reaching and Smith rightly addresses the issues without being moralizing.

Her narrative is candid and casual and sometimes runs on and on just like rap music. With no proper punctuation and grammar, Smith brings forth an expression that is natural and simple. The reader can relate to the characters in the story. The book deals with grave subjects with a lightness and sparkle that wins the heart of the reader. Smith does not patronize or impose her opinion. She lets the reader decide which side they are on.

It also brings to light the dilemma of immigration and human nature. It explores these question marks through a string of characters.

The plot is convoluted. Parallel to the main narrative runs another story or the subplot. Richard, the main character is mourning the loss of a loved one and to flee from his troubles, he boards a train to Scotland, not knowing his destination. Brittany or Brit works in a detention center for migrants where she unexpectedly meets a girl, Florence. Like Richard, Brit and Florence too are travelling in a train north of Scotland. All three characters eventually meet.

Smith shifts attention onto Richard.

Richard reveres Paddy, a script writer, and the book opens on a note of her death. As Paddy tells Richard to keep the bond with his imaginary daughter alive to maintain their connection, Richard’s real daughter grows up without him.

The story then shifts its focus onto Brit. Smith’s finesse, and resilience in gathering all the data on immigrant detainees is remarkable. Brit knows only too well that her role here is that of a machine and so enters Florence, a magical child who frees young girls from a ‘sex house’ in South East London and befriends Brit.

Here, Smith takes inspiration from Shakespeare’s play Pericles. Like Marina, who is lost at sea, Florence too is bearing the pain of migration and family separation.

Smith has done a fantastic job! Spring is no doubt an eye opener to the stark reality of diaspora, separation, racism, environmental concerns and political confusions. It is a novel par excellence. And the characters Smith draws upon are diverse and spunky!

Spring is no doubt a different and unique approach to reaching out to pensive issues.

A great book indeed which is contemporary and suited to the modern times.

Beenish Mahmood has a double Master's in English Literature with almost a decade of experience in magazine journalism. She is passionate about South Asian Fiction and environmental issues. She can be reached through email at address-beenishmhmd@gmail.com.