Winter by Ali Smith Hamish Hamilton November 2nd 2017
Winter is the second of Ali Smith’s seasonal quartet. Autumn was hugely successful and I loved it so I was expecting to read a novel of the same quality.
The novel is the story of Sophie, Iris and Arthur as they gather at Sophie’s house in Cornwall for Christmas. They are a somewhat fragmented family thrown together by circumstances rather than choice, all with different politics, different ideas. Just how well will that all get on?
So who are the three main protagonists.
Firstly there is Sophie. Sophie seemed quite detached, stuck in her ways, unwilling to conform, stubbornly refusing to enter the modern world.
Sister Iris is her complete opposite. Easy going, liberal, broadminded, not averse to texting and using the internet.
Then there is Arthur, Sophie’s son. Arthur is weathering the storm of a breakup with girlfriend Charlotte, who has taken over his Twitter account, posting ridiculous and nonsensical text. In the absence of a girlfriend to take home he approaches a young woman, Lux, at a bus stop and offers her £1000 to accompany him and pretend to be Charlotte.
On arrival at home, Arthur is distressed to find his mother in a bit of a state, and Lux phones Iris, who arrives to take charge of Christmas.
Sophie and Iris have a fraught relationship and have not seen each for many years. and each begins to remember their past. Smith uses this to highlight the huge chasm that exists between the two sisters. Their outlook on life, their politics, are so far apart there is little wonder they have not conversed in the intervening years.
To me they represented modern day. Sophie, unwilling to change, a successful business woman and by all accounts conventional. Iris, has flung herself into the modern world, a strident force of political activism, one of the original women to protest at Greenham Common. Their lives took vastly different directions and it is only now as they attempt to reconcile that they slowly begin to understand one another.
Lux’s role, other than being the stand in girlfriend, is the one thing that unites them all. She seems to understand each of them, particularly Sophie, pointing out how Art might reach out to his mother and perhaps improve their fractured relationship. Lux also represents modern immigration, the transiency of it, and the difficulties they face.
What I love about Smith is her ability to reflect on modern society and politics without actually ramming it down our throats. There are references to Grenfell Tower, Donald Trump and Brexit. It certainly makes the reader think about how we all fit in and what it means for us.
Yet, Winter is not a novel solely based on politics, for me it was more a story of a fractured family who have to learn to live with their individual differences, that often become more exaggerated over Christmas. The characters are wonderfully realised and the imagery of winter brilliantly done, yet it did not captivate me as much as Autumn. I was particularly enamoured with Sophie, and I found the whole head imagery a little too much. It was good, very good but not as good as Autumn.
I await Spring with huge anticipation!!
Thank you to Hamish Hamilton and Netgalley for the opportunity to read and review.
About the author
Born in Inverness in 1962, gained a joint degree in English Language and Literature at Aberdeen University. Smith embarked on a PHD at Cambridge University but that was soon anbandoned as she began writing plays that were staged at Cambridge Footlights and Edingburgh Fetsival Fringe.
Her first book Free Love and Other Stories was published in 1995.
This was soon followed by numerous other novels and short stories including, Hotle World, The Accidental and Public Library.
Hotel World and The Accidental were shortlisted for The Booker and The Orange Prize. How To be Both won the Bailey’s prize, The Costa Novel Award and shortlisted for the ManBooker and The Folio Prize.
Her 2016 novel, Autumn, the first part of a seasonal quartet was nominated for the Booker.
Smith lives in Cambridge with her partner Sarah Wood