Number of pages: 256
I wasn't exactly sure what to expect from Ali Smith's "Seasonal Quartet" books. Right from the start, this felt completely unconventional; the main plot was about the friendship (and potentially, romance) between the two main characters, Elisabeth and Daniel. Most significantly, Daniel was a lot older than Elisabeth, but befriended her when she was younger, despite her mother's objections. Later, they lost touch, until she found out that he was living in a care home.
Not a lot really happened in this book, but my assumption is that the characters' story will continue through the other three books. In this book, Daniel seemed to be asleep for most of the time; I found myself reading a lot of scenes that felt bizarre and surreal, which I later realised they were dream sequences. I was trying to figure out if the book was hinting that Daniel was a refugee who had fled the holocaust (I couldn't work out if the first scene, which seems to depict a tragedy on a beach was meant to represent something that had really happened to him).
There were other plot threads too, mostly related to Elisabeth's fascination with an obscure female pop artist, which gave me the impression that Ali Smith wrote this as a feminist novel, particularly as she talked about how this artist got ignored after her death, and how Elisabeth's tutor at college stopped her from doing a study about the woman she had an interest in. There were also a couple of short vignettes, including scenes where Elisabeth was trying to send off for a passport, but being told her photo wasn't acceptable.
This was a short book, but quite a challenging one, mostly because of the dense structure, and the fact that it jumped around in time a lot, so I'd suddenly find myself reading about Elisabeth's childhood, or Daniel's history. I found it compelling, largely because of the strength of the characters, and also the humour that occasionally surfaced throughout the narrative. I'm definitely going to persevere, and read the other three novels in this series.
Next book: What is the Trinity? (R.C. Sproul)