Each of these novels begins with a twisted Dickens quote:
Autumn: ‘It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times.’ (A Tale of Two Cities)
Winter: ‘God was dead: to begin with.’ (A Christmas Carol)
Spring: ‘Now what we don’t want is Facts.’ (Hard Times)
Summer: ‘Everybody said: so?’ (The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain)
Each of these novels also features a Shakespeare play and has a particular artist or writer at its core. It’s an intertextual feast. Summer embodies A Winter’s Tale, which the character Grace points out is ‘all about summer, really. It’s like it says, don’t worry, another world is possible.’ Yet Shakespeare’s typical summer play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, is hinted at, too, when several of the characters become infatuated with each other at first sight. And if A Winter’s Tale is really all about summer, Ali Smith’s Winter is really all about Summer, too, as many characters from that novel reappear here (Art, Charlotte, Iris), and Daniel and Elisabeth from Autumn are brought back in, as well. I’ve always maintained that you can read these books in any order, and whilst that remains true, I would recommend starting with Autumn just to feel that warmth of recognition when characters resurface.