Ali Smith’s great post-Brexit novel

April 30, 2019

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Christian Sinibaldi

Scottish writer Ali Smith just released "Spring," the third in a planned quartet of novels named for each of the seasons. The first in the series, "Autumn," was released just months after Britain voted to leave the EU, and was heralded as the first great post-Brexit novel.

Kurt Andersen spoke with Smith in 2017 when "Autumn" had just been published in America. While the book feels allegorical, it’s also firmly grounded in current events. “I kind of felt I would be cheating the novel if it didn’t face the contemporary or the contemporary didn’t face it,” Smith says.

The novel centers around the tender and playful cross-generational friendship between the novel’s main characters, Elizabeth and Daniel. They meet when Elizabeth is just eight years old and intrigued by her whimsical, elderly neighbor, and the two grow close over the years through their pun-filled chats and shared love for art.

There is also this remarkable third character in the book, who looms over Elizabeth and Daniel’s lives: the artist Pauline Boty, who died young and until recently was forgotten to art history, but in the 1960s was a central figure in the burgeoning British Pop Art movement. “If there's a spirit behind this book it's a spirit of Pauline Boty, who was the one and only female U.K. pop artist,” Smith explains. “She was a glorious, inventive, and experimental figure, in her art and also in the world.”

(Originally aired March 16, 2017)