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review Winter by Ali Smith

Winter by Ali Smith

M house in Cornwall for Christmas will there be enough room for everyoneWinter It makes things visible In Ali Smith's Winter life force matches up to the toughest of the seasons In this second novel in her Seasonal cycle the. This isn t a ghost story though it s the dead of winter when it happens a bright sunny post millennial global warming Christmas Christmas too dead and it s about real things really happening in the real world involving real people in real time on the real earth uh huh earth also dead And here s another version of what was happening that morning as if from a novel in which Sophia is the kind of character she d choose to be prefer to be a character in a much classic sort of story perfectly honed and comforting about how sombre yet bright the major symphony of winter is and how beautiful everything looks under a high frost how every glass blade is enhanced and silvered into individual beauty a story in which there is no room for severed heads In which Sophia s perfectly honed minor symphony modesty and narrative decorum complement the story she s in with the right kind of uiet wisdom from experience ageing female status making it a story that s thoughtful dignified conventional in structure The kind of uality literary fiction where the slow drift of snow across the landscape is merciful The second in Ali Smith s seasonal uartet which started with the Booker shortlisted Autumn The basic plot is an unusual family Christmas reunion Art goes to visit his mother Sophia a once successful business woman who ran businesses selling third world craft items and then artificially distressed furnishings with her business now failed she still has her huge Cornish mansion one which she first visited when it was occupied by a commune including her now estranged older sister Iris a long time social activist and rebel Art an insincere nature blogger has just broken up with his environmentally active girlfriend Charlotte and pays a Croatian girl Lux he meets at a bus stop to impersonate Charlotte for the weekend She invites Iris to join themSophia opens the book by looking at a postcard of Eduoard Boubat s La Petite Fille Aux Feullies Mortes the same postcard that Daniel Gluck in Autumn sent to a younger lady called Sophie something on a visit to Paris Daniel himself is not named in Winter but a comparison of incident s described in the two books from Daniel and Sophia s viewpoints respectively make it clear that Daniel is in fact Art s fatherhttpswwwartsynetartworkedouardHowever so than the overlap of characters Winter shares many similarities in style and approach with its predecessor and it is clear that Smith is treating this uartet at least on the evidence of its first two elements as a single body of artistic workSimilarities I observed between the two books An rhythmical opening chapter clearly designed to be read aloud with her the All across the country of Autumn replaced with is dead of Winter The extensive use of wordplay and punning and a character who delights in this and expanding other character s appreciation of language ironically but presumably very deliberately given the immigration and Brexit ideas running through both books in both cases a non native English speaker In Autumn Daniel broadens the language of the young Elisabeth in Winter Lux has a great grasp of English language and literature and her own name serves as a pun at one stage LuxLexiography A deliberate coverage of immediately contemporary events woven through the text here Grenfell Tower Nicholas Soames woofing at a female labour MP in the commons Theresa May s citizen of the world speech the crowdfunding by the far right of a ship to block immigrant rescues A concentration on one overarching contemporary theme with Trump being the Winter euivalent of Autumn s Brexit vote A distinct left of centre liberal bias to the political commentary one which in my view unfortunately in the days of social media echo chambers is only likely to reinforce rather than challenge the world view of Smith s readers You will look in vain for any criticism of Labour politicians for example A link between past political actions and the politics of today part of the concept of seasonality that Smith set out to explore when she commenced the uartet the concept that our real energy our real history is cyclic in continuance and at core rather than consecutive and how closely to contemporaneousness a finished book might be able to be in the world and yet how it could also be all through very much about stratified cyclic timeIn Autumn very deliberate parallels are drawn between the Profumo scandal and the Brexit vote the concept of the lies of those in power In Winter the environmental and climate change activism of Charlotte Art s ex girlfriend and the refugee involvement of the modern day Iris are linked directly to the Silent Spring inspired environmental activism of the commune where Iris lives many years before and her role in the Greenham Common protests Interestingly the message here is much positive than Autumn that the abuses of those in power can overtime be overcome by year s of protest and activismSmith s concept of cyclic time and also perhaps the reason for the positive take on events in this season are bought together when Sophia is listening to Christmas music which intrinsically means a revisiting It means the rhythm of the passing of time yes but also and so the return of time in its endless and comforting cycle to this special point in the year when regardless of the dark and the cold we shore up and offer hospitality and goodwill and give them out a bit of luxury in a world primed against them both A cover featuring trees and with trees appearing as an image throughout the book This is no coincidence as in an interview on the significance of trees for the uartet Smith says Trees are great Don t get me started about how clever they are how oxygen generous how time formed in inner cyclic circles how they provide homes for myriad creatures how back when this country was covered in forests the word for sky was an old English word that meant tops of trees The sweetness they create The things they help us create The pollination they make possible their utter mellow fruitfulness Their gestural uprightness plus bendiness their suppleness in all weathers Their shelter Their ingenuity with colours and with looking after themselves seasonally Their organic relation to books In Winter the significance of trees is bound up with the importance of colour Smith emphasises here that green specifically evergreen is as much the colour of winter as white and also that green is an ancient colour of moss and first which pre dates the other colours of nature Again I feel that this is a nod to the optimistic parts of the season that this book is starting to explore I could not help seeing a link between the evergreen trees which maintain their colour through the winter months and the clear link Smith draws between the 70s Environmental protests the Greenham common protests and the pro immigrant and anti climate change activism of the present day A concentration on a certain decade 1960s for Autumn 1980s for Winter although perhaps less coherently than in Autumn given that Hepworth died in the 1970s so that the 1980s actions is around people visiting her studio rather than Hepworth s own life in that time I understand Spring will be 1920s based and Summer 1940s based The firm SA4A Smith Ali uartet Autumn serving as a symbol for the threat of faceless and almost unknown multinationals In Autumn we see SA4A as a uasi police private security firm here Art works for their entertainments division to enforce copyright on emerging artists The symbolism of fences and commons in Autumn Elisabeth s mother is shocked by a fence erected on a common near her home the fence serving a metaphor for Brexit in Winter Iris chains herself to a fence at the very start of the Greenham Commons protests I understand that for Smith one of the key stories in the book is the tale of the initial Greenham common protestors visiting a hardware store to buy chains and padlocks and this set off for her the image of a chain reaction and her view that this initial small actions lead ultimately to nuclear disarmament A lady struggling with high street bureaucracy here Autumn s passport service of the Post Office is substituted by the financial advisers of high street banks A relatively unknown and now female artist here the sculptor Barbara Hepworth in Autumn the pop artist Pauline Boty Both artists died tragically Boty of cancer Hepworth of a fire in her studio and both could be said to be unfairly overshadowed by men working in the same field and broad style Warhol and Henry Moore respectively with Smith looking to deservedly restore their reputationAs an aside I have to confess that for four years I attended a Cambridge college whose centrepiece was one of Hepworth s sculptures Four Suare Walk Through but that for years I falsely attributed the sculpture to Henry Moore who also had a strong link to the college and was an honorary fellow it is fascinating to note that Barbara Hepworth was herself a founder member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament A male character with a past link to that artist and who collected that art Daniel with Pauline Boty here substituted by Art s real father s love of Barbara Hepworth a pilgrimage to Cornwall to see the studio in which she lived and died leads to him meeting Art s mother Actual works of art of the artist figuring in the book and sparking a character s imagination in the same way Elisabeth looks at a book of Boty s paintings Art s mother views a Hepworth sculpture I believe Nesting Stones owned by his father crucially she takes one of the two stones and brings it out from its hiding place in the present timeAs an aside the concept of two nesting heads is a recurring one through the novel Art as a child with Sophie Lux with Art Iris and Sophie as children and then later as adults The character s reaction to the art serving as a very deliberate metaphor for what Smith is trying to do in her uartet In Autumn Elisabeth comments on one of Boty s paintings The cow parsley The painted flowers Boty s sheer unadulterated reds in the re image ing of the image Put it together and what have you got Anything useful which echoes a uestion Smith asked of herself in an interview as she started work on the concept We ll see what happens I have no idea how the reality will meet the conception I m looking forward to finding outIn Winter Sophia comments of the Hepworth sculpture It makes you walk around it it makes you look through it from different sides see different things from different positions It s also like seeing inside and outside something at once which is a perfect metaphor for how Smith s writing forces us to examine our world References to classic literature including by Shakespeare and Dickens in Autumn The Tempest and A Tale of Two Cities here Cymbeline and A Christmas Carol Set alongside the high brow cultural references the influence of TV light entertainment in Autumn we had the game show and minor celebrity participant and clear Harry Hill influences here Art s step father was a sitcom star and at times Smith explicitly references an imaginary sitcom studio audience reacting to the action of the book The mixing of the real and the imaginary and the mixing of time periodsIn Autumn much of the book is set in dreams imagination or memory and at times we are unclear even whose memory we are in or even how real the memories are for example much of the dialogue between the young Elisabeth and Daniel may in fact be Daniel merging memories of his sister s precocious wordplay In Winter there are numerous memories and flashbacks but the real imaginary aspect is provided by two floating elements seen only by one character Sophia has a floater which then turns into a child s head metamorphoses through an old man and a green man and then seems to ultimately transform into the stone that she has kept from Hepworth s Nesting Stones The disembodied head seems to have come to Smith as the concept of society losing its head I voting for Brexit but I also thought the concept of a head acting alone from is body could apply to Trump More mysteriously Art sees a floating piece of coastline possibly inspired by his sub conscious guilt over a continual dream Charlotte had and which was ignored by him of uartering herself as a symbol for the possible break up of Britain possibly by her warning about the piece of coastline the size of Wales imminently to break off the Antarctic shelf and possibly a nod to the inspiration Hepworth took herself from the North Yorkshire coastline of the family holidays of her childhood and which she later sought in the Cornish coast The concept of time containers When discussing the uartet Smith commented But we re time containers we hold all our diachrony our pasts and our futures and also the pasts and futures of all the people who made us and who in turn we ll help to make in every one of our consecutive moments minutes days years In Autumn this concept was captured particularly in Daniel s dreams and his memories of his fleeing from Nazi Germany and of his brilliant sister killed in the holocaust In Winter the concept is even explicit When discussing Art s visions of the floating coastline Lux explains what she calls her own coastline One of my mother s uncles was doing the family three thing when I was about ten and he showed me my place on the map of people he s made I was down at the bottom I looked at the names above mine going back in time all the centuries that the names meant and I thought look at all the people over my head real people and all related to me a part of me and I know nothing absolutely nothing about almost all the people on that map When I was seventeen walking along a street in Toronto I knew for the first time what I was I am carrying on my head not just one container or basket but hundreds of baskets all balanced on each other full to their tops with bones and they were so heavy that either I was going to have to offload them or they were going to drive me down through the pavement to the ground Later when saying farewell to Art and failing to persuade him to engage with his mother she reacts to his assertion that he has nothing in common with Sophia with the angry comment we as humans have the chance to know where we came from To forget it to forget what made us where it might take us it s like I don t know Forgetting your own headGiving of course another explanation of the floating head that it represents the dislocation of Art from his mother And also interesting acting as partly a counter balance to the liberal pro immigration anti Brexit message of the story as Lux s argument partly picks up on David Goodhart s arguments in The Road to Somewhere The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics which ideas much as I suspect Lux and Smith would hate to admit this were behind May s citizen s of nowhere speech The examination of dysfunctional parentchild relationships In Autumn of course Elisabeth and her mother but here not just Art and Sophia as discussed above and critiued by Lux but between Sophia and her own father In a beautifully touching but achingly sad vignette Sophia s father contacts her when she is a successful business woman when he hears that Laika the space dog only lived for a few hours as he still remembers how upset the child Sophia was at Laika orbiting earth for a week before dying Lux also reveals to Sophia that the effects of the Yugoslavian wars have left her family war wounded such that she cannot live with themOverall I felt this was an outstanding novel and stronger than the already strong AutumnIn particular I felt that the tale was nuanced I have already commented above on Lux s reflections on the need to understand where we have come from Interestingly over time the Brexit supporting business focused Sophia with her childhood sensitivity and worries her brief affair with Art s father and resulting exposure to the art of Hepworth and others with her run in with some form of security services emerges as a much deeper and rounded individual than she is seen by Art and initially by the reader whereas the left wing anti Brexit pro refugee Iris emerges as simply a serial rebel and protestorFinally I feel that despite much of the despair Smith and the characters have with the contemporary world and politics there is a uiet optimism building in this book a hope that decency and goodness will prevail The setting of the book starting on the day of the Winter Solstice is important and Sophie one night reflects the shift the reversal from increase of darkness to increase of light revealed that a coming back of light was at the heart of midwinter eually as much as the waning of light

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Winter Bleak Frosty wind earth as iron water as stone so the old song goes And now Art's mother is seeing thingsCome to think of it Art's seeing things himselfWhen four people strangers and family converge on a fifteen bedroo. You re reading the book about the leaves again It s not the same book Same cover image different seasonSo no leaves floating about in this oneNo leaves But lots of floatersLike eye floatersThose and othersYou do like your enigmasPlastic floating across the oceans is no allusive enigma it s very realOh right serious floaters I won t make the joke that wasOr floaters as in people with no fixed place to sleepAnd this book is called Winter BrrrOr chemicals floating about in the atmosphere causing havoc in the food chainIs there nothing fun in this Winter book I mean like ChristmasYou want Christmas This book does Christmas with layers Layers of Christmasses one on anotherOh good Any snow flakes floating aboutSomething white and granular at any rate Possibly nuclearDon t massacre Christmas pleaseTo paraphrase the book you ve done it yourselfMe I love Christmas I especially love the games we played at ChristmasGames There are games floating through these pages alright Word association gamesOh let s play a word association game I ll begin RobinHatredNo You re supposed to say Holly or Berry or Red or somethingI was thinking Red Red as in hatred Red as in tortured Red as in massacred Ugh This book has warped your mind I ll just pretend you said Red and I ll answer GreenGreenham Common Nuclear holono Stop You re warping my mind now WoofBarking mad That s what you are And herAli Smith You re barking up the wrong tree if you think she s crazy There s no one saner She can see the underlying fabric of our world clearer than most Prove itIt s as if she s a torch on high beam shining light into every corner of our time She s even inside my head directing her spotlight into the recesses of my memory Grocer Jack and then out through my eyes so that I can t but see the world clearly myself It s no accident that the characters with most insight in this book are called Lux and IrisAli Smith does sound clearsighted and bright and wiseSnap There s a character called after Wisdom Sophia Though she s sometimes called Philo and she s a bit of a sophistA philosopher do you meanWell a philosopher lite perhaps philo as in phyllofilo pastry according to her sister There s a character called Art too But Ali Smith makes him the most irrelevant of all the characters which is odd given the focus she usually gives to art in her books and in this one too in a way Very odd indeed I m pretending to see what you mean But do carry onWell I was reminded of various pieces of art as I read the early pages of this book I kept thinking of a Brancusi piece like this oneand eventually a completely smooth one like this oneAnd they both reminded me of Barbara Hepworth s sculptures which were mentioned briefly in Autumn like this one for exampleOr this one containing a little shape as smooth as a Brancusi Hmm They are very beautiful but kind of enigmatic What do they mean Well the thing is Hepworth s sculptures turn up again in Winter and they led to an explosion of understanding for me as a reader I saw them as representing both books What was absence in one was presence in the other what was loss was gain what was missing was found But neither book had a monopoly on the lost and found or on the absence and the presence Both contain both And I came to realise that all the themes from the first were threaded through the second the movement of peoples the lies of politicians the brutality of soldiers the accumulations of useless stuff sister versus sister and of course art versus politics So you were reading the same book after all Yes Both contain both And when Spring comes out I know I ll find a third layer of the same warp and woof I can t wait to read itconversation continued in Spring

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Follow up to her sensational Autumn Smith's shapeshifting novel casts a warm wise merry and uncompromising eye over a post truth era in a story rooted in history and memory and with a taproot deep in the evergreens art and lo. uite enjoyed this though for me it lacked the urgency inspiration and poetry of Autumn At times it read like an inferior version of the same novel Perhaps though my bad for reading this immediately after finishing Autumn I ve got a feeling a six month time lapse would have helped me enjoy it Centrepiece of the novel is a Christmas lunch I certainly identified with the presentation of Christmas as a time when all family conflicts are unwrapped along with the presents As in Autumn there s a kind of magical MC aspiring to reconciliation This is Lax a character very reminiscent of the sprite in her earlier novel The Accidental and less compelling than Autumn s similar spirit Daniel Then we have a son who lives online and as a result all of his natural feeling is iced over and two warring sisters who have taken opposing paths in life Iris the mythologiser and human rights activist and Sophia the pragmatist and successful business woman Everything bad about modern Britain gets a shoe in and is outsourced to Shakespeare s Cymbeline for a damning overview Scrooge also features the ghost of Christmas past a decapitated head which was the part of the novel that alienated me Resident artist is Barbara Hepworth but nowhere near as compelling as Autumn s resident artist Pauline Boty Winter begins rather messily Smith in her dressing gown and slippers again but does get better and better Autumn though was accomplished and inspired in my opinion 35 stars NB Last night on the ITV news the newscaster was compelled to ask what kind of country we are becoming in the UK after the story of the Syrian refugee boy being physically attacked at school I couldn t help but think of the fundamental message of these Ali Smith books and how essential and pressing it is

  • Hardcover
  • 336
  • Winter by Ali Smith
  • Ali Smith
  • English
  • 05 July 2019
  • 9781101870754

About the Author: Ali Smith

Ali Smith is a writer born in Inverness Scotland to working class parents She was raised in a council house in Inverness and now lives in Cambridge She studied at Aberdeen and then at Cambridge for a PhD that was never finished In a 2004 interview with writing magazine Mslexia she talked briefly about the difficulty of becoming ill with chronic fatigue syndrome for a year and how it for



10 thoughts on “Winter by Ali Smith

  1. says:

    I’d love to chat all day about the seasons but I’ve work to do he saidWhen I first read this book I along with many others missed a key connection between it and the first volume of the uartet Autumn Reading Winter again now after just reading Autumn for the third time I firstly find it hard to believe we all missed that connection and secondly was delighted by how much knowing that connection changes the book for

  2. says:

    You're reading the book about the leaves again It's not the same book Same cover image different seasonSo no leaves floating about in this one?No leaves But lots of floatersLike eye floaters?Those and othersYou do like yo

  3. says:

    Winter is the second book I’ve read by Ali Smith Public Library and Other Stories was the first one Both times I

  4. says:

    This isn’t a ghost story though it’s the dead of winter when it happens a bright sunny post millennial global warming Christmas C

  5. says:

    OK I surrender Upgraded to 5 stars as Ali Smith has made complete fools of us all myself includedEveryone spent so long looking for mi

  6. says:

    ‪I’ve so many thoughts I can’t uite sum up the brilliance of Ali Smith’s Winter other than by saying it’s blown me away It’s like a great conversation that makes you think all the thoughts I’ve loved it ‬I’

  7. says:

    uite enjoyed this though for me it lacked the urgency inspiration and poetry of Autumn At times it read like an inferior version of the same novel Perhaps though my bad for reading this immediately after finishing Autumn I've got a feeling a six month time lapse would have helped me enjoy it Centrepiece of the novel is a Christma

  8. says:

    Martin Amis said that there seems to be a reuisite period of time before one can write about historical events especially catastrophes He was referring to 9 11 and his first publication about it—The Second Plane—which did not appear until 2008 Ali Smith however in Winter seems to be writing about Brexit and T—may his name rem

  9. says:

    45 Stars ”God was dead to begin with“And romance was dead Chivalry was dead Poetry the novel painting they were all dead and art

  10. says:

    It has taken me a while to get round to this one although its predecessor Autumn was one of my favourite books on last year's Booker list I had too much else to read when this one was released in hardback The new

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