I feel like I may be beginning to sound like the book addict I truly am, but like the novel I previously reviewed for the blog, Thunder Bay by Douglas Skelton, Spring by Ali Smith was un-put-downable. And this resulted in a bizarre need to carry the book on my person wherever I went, much to the amusement of my friends. I took Spring literally everywhere with me in my backpack and read it at every available opportunity until I had reached the last page. And that’s the unfortunate thing about books, they eventually have to end. Though the good thing is that you can just pick them back up and start all over again.
Spring is the third book of the Seasonal Quartet masterfully written by author Ali Smith. Set in the unease of an immediate post-Brexit Britain, Spring follows the lives of three seemingly unrelated characters. From the grieving TV and film director Richard Lease, to Brittany Hall a detainee custody officer (DCO) at an immigration removal centre (IRC), to Florence Smith, the enigmatic schoolgirl with the mysterious ability to influence those around her into doing the impossible, Smith has created a varied cast of characters. Through each character Smith explores differing world views and opinions in great detail and the time and care she has put into even side-characters aids in creating a story that leaps off the pages at you.
Ultimately, Spring is a novel about human connections but it is also a piece of literature which casts a revealing eye over British attitudes towards immigrants and the media frenzy which occurred around Brexit. Through her writing Smith asks us, what is a foreigner, an immigrant, really? As Smith briefly mentions in Spring, Bonnie Prince Charlie and Prince William were not as Scottish or English as they might seem. The iconic Bonnie Prince Charlie was born in Italy to a Polish mother and his opponent at Culloden Prince William, Duke of Cumberland, was of mixed European decent. These are men who are viewed as integral to British history, but men who could also be considered by some as not being very British at all. At its heart, Spring seeks to question any prejudices its readers might hold, to ask why hearing a foreign language in ‘their country’ makes them uncomfortable. The divides we put up against the people who are different from us are fickle barriers indeed. As in the end, we are all merely human, and all have a background of mixed heritage.
This idea of negativity and animosity towards immigrants is personified in a number of Smith’s characters working at the IRC in Spring. These characters treat the people held within the facility with a contempt and cruelty reflective of real-life accounts of IRC centres which have been reported to be ‘worse than prison’. However, Smith’s hope for change in the current world has also been characterised, taking the form of schoolgirl Florence Smith. A mysterious young girl, Florence possesses near magical abilities that enable her to walk into the IRC facility unquestioned and to convince workers there to have the toilets cleaned for the detainees.
In the end, it is hope that drives the story forward and compels you to read on. It is a hope that people’s attitudes can and will change. A hope for a more accepting and tolerant world and a future of understanding.
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Image taken from: https://bit.ly/2XItfcx
Quote ‘worse than prison’ taken from: https://bit.ly/2OTVnJi