This is an excellent time to reread Winter by Ali Smith because it’s been about a year since I read it and also because, seasonally, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is used as a vehicle for the author’s thoughts on the state of current affairs as well as her usual themes of time and art and ghosts and reality. There’s a nice little story involved, too. And it’s the second of Smith’s Seasons series. The first book was Autumn (link to my review) and the next ones should be called Spring and Summer. I look forward to them. (My old review is here – on this site.)
by Ali Smith
2018/ 336 pages
read by Melody Grove – 7h 28m
rating: 9.5 / contemp literary general fiction
The story is so magical in ways and so truthful in others. I didn’t remember it as having as much political stuff in it as it does.
On the surface the story concerns three of four characters who interact at Christmas, 2017. There is an older woman named Sophia who lives alone in a mostly empty house because although she’s got lots of money, she’s a miser. She wakes up on Christmas Eve morning to find a small head floating near her. The head is animated, but never speaks. As described, I suppose the head represents Marley who came to visit Scrooge.
Another major character is a single, middle-age man, Art, who goes to visit his mom, Sophie, for Christmas, but has to take a stand-in to take the place of his girlfriend who has suddenly departed. Art is a blog writer who advocates for nature – his blog is called “Art in Nature.”
The woman he brings instead of his girlfriend is named Lux. She’s very young and very hip but she works as the Christmas spirt trying to bring some love and acceptance to the event.
The fourth character is Iris, Sophia’s counter-culture sister Iris. The two women haven’t spoken in years and Iris is only at Sophia’s due to Lux’s intervention.
Thematically the book is about time and memory, aging as usual with art and t women’s issues thrown in along with environmental issues. There are also, of course, past, present and future. And there is a LOT of politics included – very anti-Brexit. What is real, truth? Perhaps only Lux knows.
Cold and death pervade much of the book but it’s so warm and loving because of what Smith brings to it.
There is only a limited amount of linear storytelling here. The main thread is woven into and around backstories and mythology and other stories with past, present and a bit of future each represented. Only the frame story of Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day is chronological from the time Sophia wakes up in her big house on Christmas Eve morning in the second little section of Part 1 until Art is home again at the end.
And Smith plays her usual delightful allusions and word games – wonderful little puns, charming misunderstandings and so on which keep the book from being dark at all – and it certainly could be.
I’m reading a few other Christmas themed books right now, as usual for me during this time of year, Jeanette Winterson among other authors.