Summer : Ali Smith's new novel, ''Summer,'' is the concluding volume in her immersive, prickly and politically ardent seasonal quarter. The previous novels in the series ''Autumn,'' ''Winter'' and ''Spring,'' appeared in 2017, 2018, and 2019, respectively.

Each has been on the beat of the world's news, from Brexit to Trump to wildfires in Australia to immigrant detainees to, now, the arrival of Covid-19. [You imagine her at the printing plant, dictating final touches as the presses churn]. Each has been like a push notice that clicks open in your mind.

They've been boon companions, these novels. It's hard to say if they'll hold up as lasting works of art, but they're certainly here right now. And later, as John Maynard Keynes said, we'll all be dead.

I'll provide a synopsis of ''Summer,'' of a sort. But to properly enter this novel, as with the previous books in the series, you've got to be willing to get a bit lost. In Smith's hands, stories slipstream in the wake of other stories : dreams are tucked up under the armpits of serious shifts in time and space. There are no directional arrows Scotch-taped to the floor.

Smith writes about yardbird intellects, refugees from good taste and urban case; her characters are shabby-genteel with the gentility knob turned down pretty low.

Smith is from Scotland. I've compared the shambolic intelligence and left-of-the-dial vision of her recent novels to the work of the film director Mike Leigh [whose name has become synonymous with ''a bit tatty,'' as in ''this van you're living in a bit Mike Leigh''] and the art-music collective known as the Mekons.

When we get momentarily baffled in a Smith novel, we don't, like Samuel Beckett's Vladimir and Estragon, sit and scratch our hindquarters.

We're with the author, banging down bosky mental paths. She trusts that we'll eventually notice the trail blazes on the rocks. She's writing about the state of her own soul at the moment, and meaning can be up for grabs.

The pandemic sneaks at the margins of this novel.

The drawings of the virus, Sacha thinks, ''all look at bit like little planets with trumpets coming out of their surface, or little worlds covered in spikes of growth, a little world that's been shot all over its surface by those fairground darts with tuft tails from the old fashioned rifle ranges, or like mines in the sea in films about WW2.''

Smith's seasonal novels can be pretty on-the-nose, politically. Sometimes they veer into the saccharine. The water, here and there, turns brackish. But as with a strong river, their motion is fundamentally self-purifying.

''Summer,'' is a prose poem in praise of memory's forgiveness, getting the joke and seizing the moment. ''Whatever age you are,'' one character comments, ''you still die too young.''

The World Students Society thanks review author Dwight Garner.


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