Hmmm. I hadn’t given much thought to how the book embodies traditional associations with spring - new life, rebirth, youth, innocence, optimism etc., but I do think it is interesting that so much of the first section revolves around Paddy’s death, and our main character Richard is in his older years - pretty much the opposite of all that spring represents. I think this juxtaposition is particularly interesting given the nature of the text in general - how experimental it is with form and style in all the ways you mentioned above. The non-linear structure, the self referential bits, the font size and general craziness of the first chapter - all of these elements make it feel like Smith is definitely being intentional about challenging her readers’ notion of what is normal or expected. I get the impression she wants her readers to be a little bit uncomfortable and to keep us on our toes so we’ll be more vigilant about considering some of the larger social issues that come up.
I read that that is one of the “points” of her Seasonal Quartet - to write the books as close to publication as possible in order to keep them relevant. Makes me really excited to see what Summer is going to be about!
Hi everyone! My name is Brian, and I’m from Ringwood, NJ. I’m sorry I missed the first part of this conversation, but I really enjoyed reading everyone’s thoughts/interpretations.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the reliability of the narrator, specifically in regards to the people in Richard’s life. Paddy is essentially perfect, which is obviously how Richard sees her, and we get no real sense of her as a person, except through Richard’s lens. He is insulted at the idea that he can’t read a poem at her memorial, because to him (and to us), he was an important piece of her life. But we have no idea whether or not that’s true.
I found myself thinking a lot about the Twins, in part because not so long ago I was in their shoes, caring for a dying parent. I felt like a heel telling certain people that they couldn’t come visit my dad on certain days, or imploring folks to come see him before it was too late. I’m sure I came off like the Twins do here, self-interested or controlling. I know those are, perhaps, the two characters, aside from Terp, that you’re supposed to be least sympathetic towards, but I couldn’t help but attempt to see them outside of Richard’s perspective.
Re: Terp, I worry that the book is going to lean too hard into the ‘new technology/millennials/streaming services’ are bad approach, although clearly his ideas are awful and the idea of bowing to the whims of sponsors/networks is a bad one. I just find that it’s often too much of a binary conversation about new media.
The part of the book that I found both touching and disturbing was the idea of the imaginary daughter. On one hand, it’s a lovely way to live in a world where your pain and mistakes aren’t there to haunt you, but instead of Paddy’s advice being "do whatever you can to maintain a relationship, despite the distance, the hurt, etc,’ it was ‘retreat into your imagination.’ It seems to me that is a painfully selfish way to deal with the issue.
The daughter also reminded me of the ‘companion’ in the second half of The Last Temptation of Christ (leaving out her identity for those that haven’t read/seen that), though that may be an overly dark take.
Someone mentioned the references to the Struggles; I recently read Say Nothing, so I had a little context going into that which I wouldn’t necessarily have had six months ago. I think it’s too simplistic to view the Struggles as a metaphor for anything, really, but I think it is just reminding the reader that Paddy is quite literally from another time, a time when people were well read, when people fought for their freedom, etc. She represents the antithesis of today’s passivity.
Anyway, I really enjoyed this chat, and I look forward to part 2! Thanks for organizing this @esh!
great questions— @large-sized.opossum shared a video up here that’s very relevant,
essentially the video argues that contemporary right-wing political strategy has been imported from the russian art world. horrifying
hello & welcome back!
i was intregued by this video mentioned in the final passage of the section, a bag of air (tacita dean, 1995) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ggFkslK-RXU
it’s always of particular interest to me when writers create ambiguity around their work’s relationship to reality. here this inclusion of an artist from the real world complicates the book’s distinction as ‘fiction,’ as do all the many very contemporary references, but this stuck out to me as a particularly layered inclusion, describing the film as if we’re looking at it together, quoting verbatim some of dean’s monolog in the film. but then at the end of the passage, with the last sentence of section 2, we’re guided to what might be provisionally called a version of this novel’s thesis:
“three minutes of black and white film are over and what’s left is the story of human beings and air, something we hardly ever notice or think about, something we can’t live without.” (220)
& isnt that what this book is trying to do? reduce human spirit down to the shining essentials— strip back invasive technology & inhumane public policy to remind us humans of what simple compassion & joy we’re capable of. it’s an issue of noticing, the novel seems to be saying, & the more we point it out the better.
summer is released the august!! i’m gonna read it immediately
hey everyone, glad to be back!
general feelings about section 2: i really loved the introduction of florence and what fun & lightness her relationship with brit brought to the book (esp after the bleakness of richards story). it was super satisfying when their story crossed paths, and all i felt was excitement of what was to come in the final section.
finally we’re getting what’s starting to feel like spring. (isn’t spring always characterized by its tardy arrival? is that because i live fairly far north on the globe or because the gulf stream on north america’s east coast has been disrupted? has it always been like this? i don’t remember spring ever beginning in march.) in any case there’s a truly youthful presence—high energy, literate, intentional relationship w technology, high creativity (& who’s favorite season is spring, leitmotif bell ringing a bit). we also get to see smith having a lot of fun with dialogue here, which is a particular strength of hers imo!
then another thing i noticed, at this point we have a lot of intergenerational interaction goin on. florence is gen z, brit & terp are millenials, richard is either gen x or boomer, paddy is silent generation. seems relevant
funny that Brit meets Florence in October, right? I also love how easy and cheerful Brit’s dialogues with Florence are especially in contrast with her bleak life and monologue.
right, like she’s rediscovering herself by seeing herself through this bright young person’s eyes
I was fascinated by florence and her incredible ability to get past everything, not only literally, but figuratively. at the beginning of the section we see britt, a closed off individual, who seems almost numbed by the job she does. shes desensitized to the feelings of others, as we see in the way she treats the details of course, but also in her personal relationships. she truly has become a cog in the machine (I found it funny that she calls herself the machine in her first encounter with florence, despite her painful lack of awareness to what shes become). in a couple of days, florence has managed to tear all of that down. we don’t get to see much about her thoughts, however we never do see any hesitation with her, which is part of why she is able to get away with the things she does. she says herself that people just see through young people and minority groups like they aren’t there, but she takes that and uses it to her advantage. when people do notice her and try to stop her, she doesn’t care. she keeps going. i feel like smith was using florence partly as a symbol for generation z. the youngest generation doesn’t care about age, or what will stop them. they are aware, involved, and are no longer feeling helpless. and its working
Brit is a frustrating character I think. She seems some issues in the world but doesn’t care though it’s implied that maybe she wasn’t always like that. She says [about her vote on the EU referendum]: “I was younger then, and I still thought politics mattered” (p. 163). What happened that made her become so indifferent to injustices in the world? Maybe it’s her reaction to the abundance of input through technology so she turns her back on it completely. Florence on the other hand uses technology differently to most of us and she is vibrant and nosy and enaged with the troubles of the world.
agreed!! i think that the two represent the differences between millennials and gen z. both are more aware of our political climate than the past generations were in their teens-20’s, however millennials, coming into the workforce to an economy that was recovering from a recession, could only really learn how to exist within the system that was given to them, almost as a means of survival. gen z is working to almost tear down the system entirely and rebuild a new one, that can work for everyone. i think maybe that’s why britt was so excited about the cleaned bathrooms, while florence was disappointed.
i am really interested in dissecting brit and the ways ali smith builds her character in the first half of the chapter. there was something very george saunder-ey in the way she captures consciousness, especially the narrative’s innocence in the face of such atrocity. i am thinking about the bullet point chapter starting on 149 (what brittany hall learned in her first two weeks) and it feels like a robot being programmed how to behave and react (Joke? Definitely meant to be. Big big laugh. 153). her life is seemingly very simple, following a strict routine, etc
and then she breaks free with florence and her personality shines! their banter was a treat to read, brit became caring & protective, her actions become almost purposeful & passionate. helping florence, instead of detaining others, was bringing her (and me as a reader) so much more pleasure. i think this shake up of character and style was an effective way to express brit’s freedom
what’s happened to brit is pretty sad. there’s a lot of detachment there, & i want to suggest, a lot of trauma incurred by perpetuating violence of the state. of course we can’t view this trauma as more significant than the trauma the people indefinitely detained, though maybe it’s not useful anyway to consider violence hierarchically.
but i am reminded of toni morrison’s playing in the dark, where she suggests that for our country to heal, basically, all white people need to unwind the intergenerational trauma they’ve inherited via their ancestors (& contemporaries) mistreating bipoc—that people who inflict violence become wounded by that violence also, & those who have experienced trauma tend to continue that cycle in their own actions. & in brit’s character (name is pretty on the nose, no?) we’re seeing the accumulation of her own deeds distance herself from reality & permit her to be monstrous without a whole lot of self reflection or even self presence…
yep i noted 149 - 153 as pretty suanders-esq too, that goofy truncated style he sometimes uses, semplica girl diaries for instance.
what do yall think about ali smith gifting/crediting her beautifully exhilarating, disorienting, & poetic opening chapters to a 12 year old??
i loved the revelation that they are FROM somewhere… it didnt bother me necessarily that a 12 yr old supposedly wrote that. she’s supposed to massively precocious & magic & all that… so my feeling was… sure whatever! was it not persuasive for u?
Something little – the way you both spoke about Brit’s general indifference esp. towards politics, parallels to me with the bit of her trying to read Florence’s jacket “Vivunt spe” … but she only knows “viv,” so she doesn’t “see” the “hope” if that makes sense…
I do feel like there is a large sense of hopelessness throughout the millennial generation, or just has been for a while, like an acceptance for things we feel that we can’t change. (…not okay…)
I love Florence and her gen Z zeal! Gen Z’s are more than hopeful, they are confident in their ability to change and it is so so admirable!