Spring is the third in Ali Smith’s seasonal quartet. Like with most of Smith’s books, there is a point where I say, “What the f— is she on about?” and a point where I say, “Oh.”
Richard Lease is an older man, a filmmaker who has done good work. He is grieving after his old friend Paddy’s death. Paddy had been his screenwriter, a woman who supported and inspired him and a good friend. He is further upset because the screenwriter assigned for his next film is trying to turn a delicate work about two famous writers who never actually met each other into a story about a hot affair.
Supposed to be at a meeting about this film in London, Richard takes a train in the opposite direction and gets off in Scotland, thinking about throwing himself under the train.
About halfway through the novel, it suddenly focuses to a seemingly unrelated story. Brittany is a security guard in a detention facility for illegal immigrants. She, like many of the other guards, has started to become callous and treat the detainees as if they were criminals.
She has heard a rumor about a little girl who walked into a facility and spoke to the director. The next day the toilets were spotlessly cleaned. Then one day on her way to work, she meets the child she thinks is that girl. The child Florence wants to know how to get to the place in Scotland shown on an old postcard she has. Suddenly, Brittany finds herself going along.
The novel is obviously about how we treat immigrants, but it makes comments about other things, like social media, on the way. There were times when its digressions got on my nerves and particularly one that I skipped once I had its measure. But somehow even when I’m frustrated by her, Smith always manages to pull me into her story and impress me with her intelligence.