Winter, Ali Smith
Updated: May 25
This book is the second of Ali Smith’s series ‘Seasonal.’
If you have read my post about the first book in this series, Autumn, you will know that an equal vague post is coming when you continue reading. (Hooray!) And I can only repeat what I said at the start of the Autumn post: When you start this book, leave every expectation you have of what a story should be, at the door. Make your mind empty and read.
(I am starting to think this is the best way to approach any book or story out there, because ‘what is a story actually?’ but that is a thought waiting to be explored later.)
This book follows up its predecessor in the type of feelings it unearths with me: It is a beautiful book, it is a strange, vague, intriguing. It jumps back and forward in time. It explores the nature of time, of identity. It reflects, comments, and sits in our current worldly affairs (Yes, hello to Brexit and all it entails again!). Simultaneously, it takes you back to other times of conflict, it takes you back to the 80s, to the Greenham Common protests.
More than Autumn, this book reflects its season. You do get more the atmosphere from winter: Slowing down, the dark creeps in, a moment of standing still, of reflection on the previous year, a moment of making up ‘the balance.’ And of course, coming together with family at Christmas, midwinter. The annual obligatory number, for some a great celebration, for others a temporarily annoying stage they must play.
In this book there are four main characters: Sophia and her sister, Iris, Art (short for Arthur), Sophia’s son and a girl Art has paid to be his pretend girlfriend over Christmas with his mum, named Lux. Art did this, because his ex-girlfriend broke up with him just before he heads up to his mum’s house for Christmas, and has told his mum he would bring his girlfriend. His actual ex-girlfriend is bashing in his Twitter account whilst all that happens.
The two sisters are fascinating. Sophia lives in an old mansion in Cornwall and is conservative in her world view. Iris is the older sister, a rebel and activist, one of the women who participated in the Greenham Common protests and is still active to help refugees in Greece. The sisters have not spoken in years. This Christmas is the first time in a long time they sit at the same table. Together with Art, a young man who does not know himself and does not known what to with himself, and Lux, a remarkably interesting character. She is an immigrant, a few years in the UK and keeping herself ‘under the radar.’ You do not know where she comes from or who she really is. She takes on the role of the soothing salve between all the relationships at a tumultuous table.
As in the last novel, here you also find many flashbacks into the characters' lives and sometimes to undefined moments in between. You constantly switch between past and present; you feel the author blending the boundaries of time.
And there is also a female artist. This time Barbara Hepworth, a sculptor. Her life is not mentioned in quite so much detail as Pauline Boty in Autumn. Yet, and to confirm this I need to read it again, her art and its meaning are woven throughout the novel.
And in all the above I have not even mentioned the floating head and the floating coastline. (Yes, it is as creepy, bizarre, and hilarious as it sounds, go read it.)
This novel is written in the same series and from the same author, so I only can repeat myself: It does not have a clear storyline. It is not important to me. I urge you: When you read this, give in to the feeling of ‘being all over the place,’ just be all over the place. Do not fight it, but flow with it.
To be entirely kitschy-clear: Dear snowflake, go with the flow of the storm until you land.