Glass selects some of the best books for spring

SPRING has begun to emerge in different ways across the country. It’s my favourite season, mainly because of its anticipatory energy, a promise of the coming heat. Despite the difficulties of lockdown, it’s hard not to be hopeful when the sun pours in through my window every morning. This new way of life has taken a lot of adjusting, however, and books are my go-to when I need a break from the constant, and often alarming, headlines.

If you can find a peaceful spot indoors, these three texts will prepare you for all of the whimsical moods of summer – Ali Smith’s Spring, Françoise Sagan’s Bonjour Tristesse and  Our Available Magic by Livia Franchini.

Spring by Ali Smith

“April the anarchic, the final month, of spring the great connective. Pass any flowering bush or tree and you can’t not hear it, the buzz of the engine, the new life already at work in it, time’s factory.”

The penultimate novel of her highly praised quartet, Smith’s Spring, published in March last year, follows the intersecting lives of people with seemingly conflicting values. It made it on to the 100 Notable Books of 2019 list in the New York Times, and involves a depressed filmmaker grieving the loss of his brilliant mentor, a warden for an immigration removal centre and a young girl who softens the hard edges of the adults around her. Smith fuses a range of voices from the past and the present in order to shape the future – Justine Jordan says it is “a beautiful piece of synchronicity”.

Smith is no stranger to the ugly aspects of society, recreating segments of online abuse that seem like they could have been lifted from Facebook’s darkest corners. She generates a disconcerting look at contemporary British life, and it is for this reason that, in my eyes, Spring is a natural choice for the Orwell Prize for Political Fiction 2020 longlist. In spite of its darker elements, however, the novel evokes a sense of hope in flowering prose, a suggestion of a spring-like future for those of us dismayed by a tedious winter.

Françoise Sagan’s sultry Bonjour Tristesse was first published in 1954 when she was just eighteen. It has been my evening read and is as indulgent as you can imagine a lazy summer spent on the Côte d’Azur to be. “He had rented a large white villa on the Mediterranean, a gorgeous, secluded house that we had been dreaming of since the beginning of warm weather in June,” Sagan writes.

Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan

Sagan’s style is soaked with the bewildering emotions of late adolescence set against sparkling saltwater – the narrator’s angst is the kind that comes about when you have nothing to do but sunbathe and think about people absent-mindedly. Brief observations become meditations on relationships, and luxurious boredom compels a privileged type of despair. Bonjour Tristesse is the sort of novel you don’t need to fully commit to, but rather enjoy its depictions of French desire in sun-kissed portions.

Contemporary poetry, a far stretch from the painful associations you might owe to memories of your school’s syllabus, is increasingly becoming part of our cultural discourse. The secret I learned about poetry is that it’s much more accessible than it pretends to be.

The reality is that you might not connect with every poem you read, but every so often you’ll come across a piece that will genuinely make you feel something – I became completely absorbed in Livia Franchini’s Our Available Magic. It was released by Makina Books, an independent publisher that showcases emerging voices in literature and photography.

From the pamphlet, “…and the way he says my name, Rita, a bit louder if I’m down the hall, Rita, until my ears fill up with the dreamy names of faraway beaches, his great big laugh in the background, the sand shimmering pink and white, Malibu, Tropicana, St. Tropez, and there is sand in my earshells when he pushes me under…”

Our Available Magic by Livia Franchini

Franchini’s poetry is composed for those who wish to slip into someone else’s daydream, even just for a moment. She captures the glimmering details of summer at its dry point, all of the meshing sounds of metal – pans clattering, cars pulling up in the driveway – and the strangeness of interweaving balcony conversations. If the coming seasons don’t allow for lengthy reading, then Franchini’s poems will offer satisfying interludes between other commitments. Their richness dazzles, each setting condensed and vibrant.

For me, these three texts frame the coming weeks of sunshine and blossoming trees, but they also deal with unstable emotions, the sense of being stuck and the desire for something different. In this way, they adeptly capture the current moment. You can find out whether they’re for you by reading them – in the best instance, they can provide a sense of shared morale, offering new perspectives and colourful imaginings – if not, then they’re gorgeous distractions.

And I know that reading about others’ ventures to hot and starry locations doesn’t exactly measure up to the real thing but, while we’re mostly inside, it’s a start.

by Alice Hill-Woods