An ageing filmmaker, disillusioned by the moral bankruptcy of his current project, loses the will to live after the death of his mentor. A young woman working as a security guard at a migrant detention centre is literally and metaphorically taken for a ride by a precocious twelve-year-old girl. They meet up at a railway station near the site of the Culloden massacre in Scotland where an off-duty librarian driving a coffee van without any coffee picks them up.
Yes, that’s the theme of this powerful novel that ended up as one of my favourite reads of the year. It evoked a range of emotions: from relief that one of our finest writers is exposing a shameful slice of contemporary politics to guilt that I personally don’t do more.
But it also struck me how hard it is to construct an engaging novel about current injustice. Too much emphasis and it’s preachy to the already converted. Too little exposition and others might miss the point. Which led me to think of cutting myself some slack as a small-time author interested in themes of social justice and to recognise that, perhaps, it’s enough to try.
I’m pleased with the response to my latest novel, Lyrics for the Loved Ones, which highlights both institutional racism and inequalities during the pandemic. I’m honoured to have received predominantly 4- and 5-star ratings and several thoughtful reviews. Reading these, I find echoes of my own evaluation of Spring: is it awesome enough overall to outweigh the moments of where-the-hell-is-this-going?
I hope to tip the balance in a positive direction for more readers with my next book. Until then, I’ll delve into more of Ali Smith. I’m giving her five stars for this book. Thanks to my local library for my copy.
I hadn’t thought to mention the faint fatherhood theme in Spring, until I saw the prompt today for this week’s flash fiction challenge. But I’ve drawn on Ali Smith’s filmmaker’s character in composing my response. I thought it sad, but highly credible, that he’s estranged from his real daughter, but hears from his fantasy daughter in his head.
I’m pegging out my jeans and T-shirts when my neighbour’s daughter scrambles onto the dividing wall. “Danny, are the frogs at home? Can I come and see?”
A glance at her mother’s frown provides my answer. “They’re not here today, Ruby. Maybe next week.”
A frog hops onto a lily pad, as the mother shepherds her child indoors. I don’t blame her for being cautious, although it hurts.
Once, the girl slipped up and called me Daddy. Once, I mistakenly called her Ruth.
I check the mailbox but there’s nothing. I haven’t heard from the real Ruth in years.