Oh my – what a magical mystical story – typical of Smith in so many ways, original in others. The second in her Seasonal Quartet (the first was Autumn which I read a few months ago), and she just flat outdoes herself at times. The best winter story I’ve ever read, like hands down, is Mark Halprin’s Winter’s Tale ( ) which completely transported me to a child’s turn-of-the-century Christmas in New York with gangsters and snow and flights to upstate.
Smith’s tale deals with time and memory and the question of “what is real?” (in these times of the 45th president and “fake news” and the internet.) There are elements of magical realism (a little talking head) and literary correlations (Dickens’ A Christmas Carol for just one). It’s also very much Ali’s story – ghosts and all.
by Ali Smith
2018/ 336 pages
read by Melody Grove – 7h 28m
rating: 9.5 / contemp literary general fiction
The miserly Sophia Cleaves plays the part of Scrooge, in her big, old empty house where a “head’ appears one night – the ghost of something.
Cold and death pervade much of the book but it’s so warm and loving . A few of the characters are very cold, they don’t die – not the real ones anyway (whatever that means), the ones alive in that era. The other characters are for the most part very, very sympathetic – loving and lovable.
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 original story of Christmas Eve, 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. Within the contemporary times, the Christmas Present part, it goes into politics a lot more than Smith usually does – (can’t remember specifically but I’ve read all but 3 of her 9 novels).
There’s a lot of art and history and even singing involved along with religion (it is Christmas) and love. Then Sophie gets three visitors for the Christmas holiday – her sister and her son with his girlfriend – but there “is no room at the inn” so she sends Art and his girlfriend out to the barn. There are no beds in the house. Besides – girlfriend is really the wrong name for Luz – Charlotte.
And Smith plays her usual delightful word games – wonderful little puns, charming misunderstandings and so on which keep the book from being dark at all – and it certainly could be.