Author(s): Ali Smith
Winter? Bleak. Earth as iron, water as stone, so the old song goes. But winter makes things visible. And Christmas is a time for family reunions, unexpected guests and evergreen truths.It's December in Cornwall and Art's mother is seeing things. Art has problems too. His girlfriend has left so he's paying Lux, a young immigrant he found on the street, to impersonate her - but Lux has no intention of sticking to the script. And Iris, Art's prodigal aunt, septuagenarian CND-er and black sheep of the family, is about to arrive with a car full of food and a throat full of protest songs. Four people, strangers and family, in a fifteen-bedroom house for Christmas - will there be enough room for everyone?Wintercasts a merry eye over a bleak post-truth era with a story rooted in history, art, love and memory, protest and survival.
Ali Smith's Winter is dazzling. The second in her ‘Seasons’ quartet, she again, as in Autumn, draws richness out of desolation. Strangely, the novel opens with Sophia, lonely and retired, conversing with a detached head. Not too far along we meet Arthur, her son, who has just fallen out with his girlfriend Charlotte, who has accused him of being a fraud and politically disconnected. Charlotte, aggrieved by his uselessness, has drilled holes through his laptop, taken off and taken over his ‘art and nature’ blog, posting false and possibly libelous material. Arthur (Art as he is affectionately known to his family) has to travel to Cornwall to visit Sophia for Christmas, and he is meant to be arriving with Charlotte. In desperation, he finds a stand-in, Lux, who he pays a thousand pounds to pretend to be Charlotte for the long weekend. Arriving at Sophia's home, they find Sophia sitting huddled in layers of clothes in a cold house, not quite herself. Lux takes it upon herself to make Art contact Iris, his aunt. And here the novel starts to unfold. The fraught relationship between the sisters, one the seemingly conservative businesswoman, the other the 'wild child' activist who chained herself to the fence at Greenham Common, still protesting and aiding the disempowered. The conversations between the sisters reveal much to Arthur about his upbringing. Yet more is revealed to Lux, the stranger in the mix, who Sophia seems to trust. Lux is a recent migrant, studying English literature before she ran out of money and now making do with low-pay jobs and sleeping anywhere she isn’t noticed. Her brief interlude in this winter Christmas family tale is inspired - a catalyst for change. Ali Smith draws us in with cool, icy precision - Winter, like the season, is deep, dark and melancholic when we enter the novel - yet she gives us love and hope, and lets us see the green shoots waiting for the snow to melt. Like Autumn, Winter is a book about time and place, about now - refugees, fires in substandard towers - about what binds families and also what splits them asunder. Smith can take a simple series of events with a cast of few and tell us so much about ourselves, and the culture (art, literature, language) and choices that shape us. And she does it with intelligence, wit and style.