A few weeks ago, as the blossom trees bloomed pink and the warm winds of springtime began to blow through a nation in lockdown, I decided to indulge in some appropriate reading and picked up the third instalment of Ali Smith's seasonal quartet, Spring. Having enjoyed the previous two books, Autumn and Winter, I found myself blown away by Spring: not only is it the most plot-driven of the series yet, but it seems that as Smith's seasons get warmer, so do her politics hot up. A bold monologue by Spring personified reads: 'Do you think I don't know about power? You think I was born green? I was. Mess up my climate, I'll fuck with your lives… I'll yank daffodils out of the ground in December. I'll block up your front door in April with snow and blow down that tree so it cracks your roof open. I'll carpet your house with the river. But I'll be the reason your own sap's reviving. I'll mainline the light to your veins.'

Evidently, the focus of Spring is the climate emergency, published as it was in the spring of 2019. However, reading a whole year later, I couldn't help but reflect on how this current spring forms the backdrop of a new, different emergency, albeit one which will require the same fierce political energy in its narrativization. Naturally, my thoughts turned to Summer. On the fourth of May, the manuscript of the fourth and final of Smith's quartet was delivered to her publisher via motorbike from Cambridge to London, bound in 'the same beautifully battered portfolio she has used for every book'. Given the nature of these books as rapid-response fiction, it seems reasonable to assume that some zeitgeist tropes of these famously 'unprecedented times' (clapping for the NHS? Daily 'Boris walks'? Knowing Smith's love of allegory - a character named Germ?) will have made their way into the pages. Thus, as we face a British summertime whose temperamental weather will in fact be the least of our worries, it seems we can rest assured that Summer, at least, will be scorching hot.

Smith will likely be the first British author to put pen to paper about the pandemic, but she surely won't be the last. The prolonged period at home will almost certainly result in a flurry of budding new voices eager to get down their take on this unique time. What's more, we can be sure that these texts endure: look at Defoe's 'A Journal of the Plague Year' and Camus' 'The Plague Year,' which suddenly seem to be present on the background bookshelves of every televised Zoom-er. On an episode of her BBC Two 'Lockdown Culture' show, Mary Beard asked her guests who they would like to see leading the coronavirus creative response, and author Olivia Laing dutifully spoke of her excitement to read her friend Smith's latest novel, admiring its capacity as 'rapid-response unit'. Coincidentally, just before the pandemic broke out, Laing herself published a book of essays called 'Funny Weather: Art in an Emergency' in which she advocates the importance of art in politically turbulent and uncertain times. She insists that art can and should change the world; it reveals the interior lives of others, ‘makes plain inequalities’ and suggests new ways of living. 


Mountain View

Getting to know The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

Laing is certainly right, which is what makes the question of who will pen the pandemic so pertinent. Coronavirus may have initially (and ignorantly) been lauded ‘the great leveller’, but as ONS figures have revealed the correlation between death rates and deprivation, it has become obvious that the quarantine quotidian is not the same across the board. As such, it is vital that the inevitable artistic accounts of this particular period indeed ‘make plain’ the social inequalities that the virus has thrown even further into the spotlight: we cannot only read the accounts of the middle-class elite who fled to their countryside châteaus to lockdown like ‘Sleeping Beauty’.

On the British literary scene, there is hope that a true picture of the pandemic will be sketched: ‘national novelist’ Smith is as critical about the state of our nation as she is celebratory, and the recent literary stardom of Booker-winner Bernardine Evaristo suggests hope for more intersectional and holistic accounts of contemporary Britain. But a mere handful is not enough. The history books will likely be written by the peers of those who stand behind their podiums of lies every evening on national television, so it will be up to fiction, as Andrea Levy once wrote, to put ‘back the voices that were left out.’ And for this, we need writers from all corners of the rich tapestry of our British society, in order to gain a true idea of these unprecedented days as they have been lived, by everyone. As they begin to sift through the many manuscripts that will undoubtedly swamp their desks as the heavy cogs of ‘normality’ begin to slowly turn once more, publishers and agents need to champion the voices of writers from BAME and working-class backgrounds more than ever, to ensure that the lockdown literature preserved for posterity gives the full picture of what it has meant to live through this particular spring and summer – and perhaps the many seasons beyond.