What unites Katherine Mansfield, Charlie Chaplin, Shakespeare, Rilke, Beethoven, Brexit, the present, the past, the north, the south, the east, the west, a man mourning lost times, a woman trapped in modern times?
Spring. The great connective.
With an eye to the migrancy of story over time and riffing on Pericles, one of Shakespeare's most resistant and rollicking works, Ali Smith tell the impossible tale of an impossible time. In a time of walls and lockdown, Smith opens the door.
The time we're living in is changing nature. Will it change the nature of story?
Hope springs eternal.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Now what we don’t want is Facts. What we want is bewilderment. What we want is repetition. What we want is repetition. What we want is people in power saying the truth is not the truth. What we want is elected members of parliament saying knife getting heated stuck in her front and twisted things like bring your own noose we want governing members of parliament in the house of commons shouting kill yourself at opposition members of parliament we want powerful people saying they want other powerful people chopped up in bags in my freezer we want muslim women a joke in a newspaper column we want the laugh we want the sound of that laugh behind them everywhere they go. We want the people we call foreign to feel foreign we need to make it clear they can’t have rights unless we say so. What we want is outrage offence distraction. What we need is to say thinking is elite knowledge is elite what we need is people feeling left behind disenfranchised what we need is people feeling. What we need is panic we want subconscious panic we want conscious panic too. We need emotion we want righteousness we want anger. We need all that patriotic stuff. What we want is same old Scandal Of The Alcoholic Mothers Danger Of The Daily Aspirin but with more emergency Nein Nein Nein we need a hashtag #linedrawn we want Give Us What We Want Or We’ll Walk we want fury we want outrage we want words at their most emotive antisemite is good nazi is great paedo will really do it perverted foreigner illegal we want gut reaction we want Age Test For ‘Child Migrants’ 98% Demand Ban New Migrants Gunships To Stop Migrants How Many More Can We Take Bolt Your Doors Hide Your Wives we want zero tolerance. We need news to be phone size. We need to bypass mainstream media. We need to look past the interviewer talk straight to camera. We need to send a very clear strong unmistakable message. We need newsfeed shock. We need more newsfeed shock come on quick next newsfeed shock pull the finger out we want torture images. We need to get to them we need them to think we can get to them get the word lynching to anyone not white. We want rape threats death threats 24/7 to black / female members of parliament no just women doing anything public anyone doing anything public we don’t like we need How Dare She / How Dare He / How Dare They. We need to suggest the enemy within. We need enemies of the people we want their judges called enemies of the people we want their journalists called enemies of the people we want the people we decide to call enemies of the people called enemies of the people we want to say loudly over and over again on as many tv and radio shows as possible how they’re silencing us. We need to say all the old stuff like it’s new. We need news to be what we say it is. We need words to mean what we say they mean. We need to deny what we’re saying while we’re saying it. We need it not to matter what words mean. We need a good old slogan Britain no England / America / Italy / France / Germany / Hungary / Poland / Brazil / [insert name of country] First. We need the dark web money algorithms social media. We need to say we’re doing it for freedom of speech. We need bots we need cliche we need to offer hope. We need to say it’s a new era the old era’s dead their time’s over it’s our time now. We need to smile a lot while we say it we need to laugh on camera ha ha ha thump man laughing his head off hear that factory whistle at the end of the day that factory’s dead we’re the new factory whistle we’re what this country’s needed all along we’re what you need we’re what you want.
What we want is need.
What we need is want.
That time again, is it? (Shrugs.)
None of it touches me. It’s nothing but water and dust. You’re nothing but bonedust and water. Good. More useful to me in the end.
I’m the child who’s been buried in leaves. The leaves rot down: here I am.
Or picture a crocus in snow. See the ring of the thaw round the crocus? That’s the door open into the earth. I’m the green in the bulb and the moment of split in the seed, the unfurl of the petal, the dabber of ends of the branches of trees with the green as if green is alight.
The plants that push up through the junk and the plastic, earlier, later, they’re coming, regardless. The plants shift beneath you regardless, the people in sweatshops, the people out shopping, the people at desks in the light off their screens or scrolling their phones in the surgery waiting rooms, the protesters shouting, wherever, whatever the city or country, the light shifts, the flowers nod next to the corpseheap and next to the places you live and the places you drink yourselves stupid or happy or sad and the places you pray to your gods and the big supermarkets, the people on motorways speeding past verges and scrubland like nothing is happening. Everything is. The flowerheads open all over the flytip. The light shifts across your divides, round the people with passports, the people with money, the people with nothing, past sheds and canals and cathedrals, your airports, your graveyards, whatever you bury, whatever you dig up to call it your history or drill down to use up for money, the light shifts regardless.
The truth is a kind of regardless.
The winter’s a nothing to me.
Do you think I don’t know about power? You think I was born green?
Mess up my climate, I’ll fuck with your lives. Your lives are a nothing to me. I’ll yank daffodils out of the ground in December. I’ll block up your front door in April with snow and blow down that tree so it cracks your roof open. I’ll carpet your house with the river.
But I’ll be the reason your own sap’s reviving. I’ll mainline the light to your veins.
What’s under your road surface now?
What’s under your house’s foundations?
What’s warping your doors?
What’s giving your world the fresh colours? What’s the key to the song of the bird? What’s forming the beak in the egg?
What’s sending the thinnest of green shoots through that rock so the rock starts to split?
Reading Group Guide
The questions, discussion topics, and reading/viewing list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group’s discussion of Spring by Ali Smith. In this third novel in her Seasonal Quartet, Smith tells the intertwining stories of a troubled TV director, a custody officer at an immigration removal center, and a preternaturally gifted schoolgirl who might just save them all.
1. If you have read Autumn and Winter, how does Spring connect with the earlier Seasonal Quartet novels? How is it different? What are the common themes amongst the books?
2. How is Spring a novel about the importance of stories? How are Richard, Paddy, Brittany, Alda and Florence all storytellers? How is telling and hearing and sharing stories—and a variety of stories—crucial to our individual and collective lives?
3. How do stories connect people in Spring? How are both friends and strangers brought together through stories?
4. Brittany and Florence play a game called “Lucky 13 on the train ride up to Scotland. How would you answer the thirteen questions? “What’s your favorite color, song, food, drink, thing to wear, place, season, day of the week. What animal would you be if you were an animal. What bird. What insect. What one thing are you really good at. How would you most like to die” (p. 185). What is important about this child’s game? Do you feel silly answering the questions, or does the game give seriousness and consequence to things you don’t usually think about?
5. What is the importance of the story Brittany tells about her name and her mother, the geography book? Why does telling the story make Brittany want to cry?
6. What is the author saying about borders and the crossing of borders? Florence says “What if . . . instead of saying, this border divides these places. We said, this border unites these places. This border holds together these two really interesting different places” (p. 196). What do you think about this idea?
7. Even though Brittany calls herself the machine when she’s with Florence, she finds herself, in Florence’s presence, becoming more alive and herself. “She is clever again. She is witty and entertaining” (p. 198). Why do you think this happens to Brittany?
8. Discuss the clouds in the novel. “HOT AIR” is handwritten on the cover of Florence’s notebook. Artist Tacita Dean’s short film “A Bag of Air” and Dean’s paintings and photographs of clouds are discussed. Richard thinks about how the iCloud is where information and images are stored. “Air, something we hardly ever notice or think about, something we can’t live without” (p. 220).
9. Why is “The Story of Richard Doubledick” by Charles Dickens included in Spring? What is the message of this novel (which is less well-known than some of his other works)? And what is the connection to this novel?
10. Spring, the season, brings hope. How is Spring, the novel, also filled with hope? Discuss the Latin words on Florence’s school blazer, vivunt spe (live in hope), the Beethoven song An Die Hoffnung (dedicated to hope), and any other overt or hidden references and allusions to hope.
11. How are spring and this novel both about rebirth and reconciliation?
12. Discuss the relationship between Richard and Paddy.
13. What do we know of Richard and his daughter? And does he distinguish between his memories of his real daughter and those of his imaginary daughter? What is the meaning of Paddy’s advice to Richard, “Take her to see things. And tell her to send me a postcard whenever you do go to see things or places” (p. 75)?
14. Why postcards? How are postcards a recurring theme throughout this novel and the three previous novels? How do postcards connect Katherine Mansfield and Rainer Maria Rilke? What happens to Richard’s idea of a film built around postcards the two of them sent?
15. Why is the last postcard Richard sends to Paddy one that depicts Tacita Dean’s clouds?
16. Mountains also feature frequently in Spring. What do mountains—both real and imaginary—represent in the novel?
17. Each of the Seasonal Quartet novels riffs on a Shakespeare play; this one on Pericles, which has been described as a play of migration and family separation. Have you read Pericles? How does this novel connect to that play?
18. The jacket copy of Spring reads, “The time we’re living in is changing nature. Will it change the nature of story?” Discuss what this means and how it is significant. Has Ali Smith changed the nature of storytelling and novels?
19. At one point, immigration officer Brittany says, “It’s about who was in charge of justice. Who gets to say what it is” (p. 295). Discuss this quote and how it relates to the book and to our world.
20. Why do you think Ali Smith has chosen to include two expatriate writers, Katherine Mansfield and Rainer Maria Rilke, and their near-meeting in Switzerland?
21. Discuss the place where Brittany works. It is not a prison, but “a purpose-built Immigration Removal Center with a prison design” (p. 160). How is Brittany like a machine in this prison system?
22. Near the end of the novel, Alda says, “These stories are deeply serious, all about transformation” (p. 276). How is this just like Spring (both the novel and the season)?
23. Paddy tells Richard at one point, “There’s ways to survive these times, Doubledick, and I think one way is the shape the telling takes” (p. 21). Discuss what Paddy means and what she’s advising Richard—and us—to do.
24. How is Spring a book about the present-day with roots in the cultural past?
25. Brittany Hall is intelligent and self-aware—she knows that where she works isn’t good. “There were people in here, in a place designed when it was first built for 72-hour detention at the most, who’d been here for years, years and years” (p. 135). Why does she keep working there?
26. Who is addressing the reader in the beginning of part one and then at the beginning of part two?
27. What happens at the end of the novel?
28. What do you think of Florence? What does she represent? Is she the future? “The girl is like someone or something out of a legend or a story, the kind of story that on the one land isn’t really about real life but on the other is the only way you ever really understand anything about real life” (p. 314).
29. The British newspaper The Observer has written about Spring: “The third book in Ali Smith’s quartet is her best yet, a dazzling hymn to hope, uniting the past and present . . . Smith has always been a profoundly moral writer, but in this series of novels she is doing something more than merely anatomising the iniquities of her age. She’s lighting us a path out of the nightmarish now.” Do you agree with this? How might Ali Smith be lighting the way?