Winter
The dazzling second novel in Ali Smith's essential Seasonal Quartet — from the Baileys Prize-winning, Man Booker-shortlisted author of Autumn and How to be both.Winter? Bleak. Frosty wind, earth as iron, water as stone, so the old song goes. The shortest days, the longest nights. The trees are bare and shivering. The summer's leaves? Dead litter. The world shrinks; the sap sinks. But winter makes things visible. And if there's ice, there'll be fire. In Ali Smith's Winter, lifeforce matches up to the toughest of the seasons. In this second novel in her acclaimed Seasonal cycle, the follow-up to her sensational Autumn, Smith's shape-shifting quartet of novels casts a merry eye over a bleak post-truth era with a story rooted in history, memory and warmth, its taproot deep in the evergreens: art, love, laughter. It's the season that teaches us survival. Here comes Winter.

Winter Details

TitleWinter
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseNov 2nd, 2017
PublisherHamish Hamilton
ISBN-139780241207024
Rating
GenreFiction, Contemporary, Literary Fiction, European Literature, British Literature

Winter Review

  • Neil
    January 1, 1970
    I’d love to chat all day about the seasons but I’ve work to do, he said.When I first read this book, I, along with many others, missed a key connection between it and the first volume of the quartet, 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 the better). I won't, in case of spoilers, say what that connection is, b I’d love to chat all day about the seasons but I’ve work to do, he said.When I first read this book, I, along with many others, missed a key connection between it and the first volume of the quartet, 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 the better). I won't, in case of spoilers, say what that connection is, but it has to do with a link between one of the main characters in each book and knowing that link makes Winter a different beast altogether. And far more enjoyable because of that.Autumn was a collage, similar to the art work of Pauline Boty who featured heavily. Winter is also a collage, retaining the same format of leaping around in time. As Smith says,That’s one of the things stories and books can do, they can make more than one time possible at once.And this compression or overlaying of time seems to be a key idea in the books.But the artist of choice in Winter is Hepworth, famous for her statues with holes in them. So, it is perhaps appropriate that Art, one of the main characters, says at one pointSo I think of him, and I think of the word father, and it’s kind of like there’s a cut-out empty space in my head. I quite like it. I can fill it any way I like. I can leave it empty.And we, as readers who know something about Art that he does not know himself, can relate to what Smith has someone say about HepworthYes, he says, and she does that, Hepworth, I think, puts the holes through what she makes, because she wants people to think about exactly what you just said, time, and ancient things, but also because she really just wants them to want to touch what she makes, you know, to be reminded about things that are quite physical, sensory, immediate, he says.Art's statement about his father means something more to us, or at least something different.Having read Autumn and Winter back to back over the last 2-3 days, I am inordinately excited about the upcoming release of Spring (which is why I have re-read these first two) because my re-reads have definitely given me more of picture of what Smith is doing overall in her quartet (the way she is compressing and overlaying time, the way she is drawing parallels between past and present, the way...) and because the brief comments I have seen about Spring (I am trying to avoid them, but some sneak through) suggest this starts to come to fruition in the next volume.---------------ORIGINAL REVIEW---------------Ok, so I am biased and it may be that Ali Smith gets an extra star simply for being Ali Smith. But, even then, when you stop to consider what Smith has done in this second book of her seasonal quartet, it is breathtaking! Ali Smith has her own unique style. Given her very obvious love for Dickens and all things Dickensian, I wanted to say her style is Smithsonian, but someone else has already appropriated that word. No one writes like Smith with such joy in words.At the Man Booker short list event in Cheltenham, Smith spoke about the difficulties of time in the novel. In a piece of music, several people can sing at the same time, and about different topics/times if that’s what the composer wants. In a novel, we can only read one set of words at a time. And this is a frustration for some novelists.In Winter, Smith plays with this idea of time in a novel. This makes for a fairly complicated structure to the book which consists of multiple flashbacks and flash forwards. It can be tricky to keep track of all the different threads being covered.That’s one of the things stories and books can do, they can make more than one time possible at once.Well, they can when Smith writes them.We are dealing with four main characters: Sophia, her sister, Iris, her son Art (Arthur) and a girl Art has paid to pretend to be his girlfriend for Christmas with his mother, Lux. Art needs a girlfriend because he has just broken up with Charlotte who was supposed to be spending Christmas with him at his mother’s, but she is now, instead, sabotaging his Twitter feed to such an extent that he dares not turn on his phone.Lux is a fascinating character (somewhat reminiscent of Amber in The Accidental who arrives and disrupts a family occasion). Lux is, of course, both the bringer of light and a soap. And in this story the girl called Lux brings both illumination and cleansing. She is not British, but she came to the UK because of Shakespeare’s play Cymbeline.Cymbeline, he says. The one about poison, mess, bitterness, then the balance coming back. The lies revealed. The losses compensated.And that’s what Winter is about. Sophia and Iris have fallen out and not spoken for many years. Art has broken up with Charlotte. Then Lux happens.And, in the mix with this story of a family gathering (Christmas is in Winter and Christmas is about family gatherings), Smith flashes back and forwards to earlier times in Sophia’s and Iris’s history. Primarily, amongst many other historical references, she visits the Greenham Common protests and pulls them forward to today.It seems to me that one of the things Smith is trying to do in her quartet is ground or embed the events and attitudes of our current time in their underlying history. She wants to unite “now” and “then” because “now” means very little unless you understand “then”. In Winter, “now” very much is “now”: we cover events up to the summer of 2017.Brexit and its implications are still part of the story (Christmas and “no room at the inn” is paralleled with UK and “no more room”). Trump is part of the story.And, as with Pauline Boty in Autumn, there is a female artist. In Winter this artist is perhaps mentioned fewer times or in less detail, (Update: this comment comes from my ignorance of Hepworth - some basic research after reading shows that she is actually present, if not named, from the very beginning) but her role in the overall aim of the story is very clear. She is Barbara Hepworth:Yes, he says, and she does that, Hepworth, I think, puts the holes through what she makes, because she wants people to think about exactly what you just said, time, and ancient things, but also because she really just wants them to want to touch what she makes, you know, to be reminded about things that are quite physical, sensory, immediate, he says.Hepworth’s work is like what Smith is aiming for (and, for me, achieving) in the way she seeks to unite past and present. In a comment on Hepworth, there is a quote that it seems to me applies equally to Smith’s writing:She walks round the sculpture. It makes you walk round 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 onceAnd also in a comment that could apply equally to Smith’s writing, we read of KeplerKindred means family, what I’m saying is he thought that truth and time are sort of related, family to each other.AndAnd he was a man who paid things attention up close as well as far away.Winter contains far more meditation on the season it is named after than Autumn did.That’s what winter is: an exercise in remembering how to still yourself then how to come pliantly back to life again.…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 equally as much as the waning of light.I could write for hours about this book, but I cannot do it justice and the best thing is if you read it for yourself. Everyone should read it, especially the final quarter which made me laugh and cry in equal measure. One final quote which really made me laugh:The man who wrote the dictionary. Johnson. Not Boris. The opposite of Boris. A man interested in the meanings of words, not one whose interests leave words meaningless.And I haven’t even talked about the floating head or the floating coastline.
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  • Fionnuala
    January 1, 1970
    (conversation continued from Autumn)You're reading the book about the leaves again! It's not the same book. Same cover image, different season.So no leaves floating about in this one?No leaves. But lots of floaters.Like eye floaters?Those - and others.You do like your enigmas!Plastic floating across the oceans is no allusive enigma - it's very real.Oh right, serious floaters. I won't make the joke that was..Or floaters as in people with no fixed place to sleep.And this book is called Winter? Brr (conversation continued from Autumn)You're reading the book about the leaves again! It's not the same book. Same cover image, different season.So no leaves floating about in this one?No leaves. But lots of floaters.Like eye floaters?Those - and others.You do like your enigmas!Plastic floating across the oceans is no allusive enigma - it's very real.Oh right, serious floaters. I won't make the joke that was..Or floaters as in people with no fixed place to sleep.And this book is called Winter? Brrr...Or chemicals floating about in the atmosphere causing havoc in the food chain.Is there nothing fun in this Winter book. I mean, like Christmas?You want Christmas? This book does Christmas with layers. Layers of Christmasses one on another.Oh good! Any snow flakes floating about?Something white and granular at any rate. Possibly nuclear...Don't massacre Christmas please!To paraphrase the book, you've done it yourself.Me? I love Christmas! I especially love the games we played at Christmas.Games? There are games floating through these pages alright. Word association games.Oh, let's play a word association game. I'll begin: Robin!Hatred.No! You're supposed to say Holly or Berry or Red or something.I 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 Green!Greenham Common! Nuclear holo...no! Stop! You're warping my mind now! Woof!Barking mad! That's what you are. And her.Ali 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 it.It'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 more clearly myself. It's no accident that the characters with most insight in this book are called Lux and Iris.Ali Smith does sound clearsighted - and bright, and wise.Snap! There's a character called after Wisdom! Sophia. Though she's sometimes called Philo and she's a bit of a sophist.A philosopher, do you mean?.Well, a philosopher-lite perhaps, philo as in phyllo/filo 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 on.Well, 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 one:and eventually a completely smooth one like this one:And they both reminded me of Barbara Hepworth's sculptures (which were mentioned briefly in Autumn), like this one for example:Or 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 it!(conversation continued in Spring)
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  • Esil
    January 1, 1970
    Winter is the second book I’ve read by Ali Smith (Public Library and Other Stories was the first one). Both times I had to recalibrate my brain according to the following rules in order to enjoy the reading experience:-Slow down – the book is short but you can’t speed through it.-Give in to the lack of linearity – allow yourself to float and flit in time.-Open up to the impressionistic feel of the story and language – working too hard to understand what’s happening seems to defeat the point.The Winter is the second book I’ve read by Ali Smith (Public Library and Other Stories was the first one). Both times I had to recalibrate my brain according to the following rules in order to enjoy the reading experience:-Slow down – the book is short but you can’t speed through it.-Give in to the lack of linearity – allow yourself to float and flit in time.-Open up to the impressionistic feel of the story and language – working too hard to understand what’s happening seems to defeat the point.The book is told primarily through the voice and eyes of aging Sophia and her adult son Art. The hub of the narrative is a Christmas in England when Sophia, Art, Sophia’s sister, and Art’s pretend girlfriend come together in Sophia’s house. Sophia’s mind seems to be failing, so her thoughts skip to different time periods, all the while revealing her as challenging and prickly. Art is a tad odd too, somewhat awed and beleaguered by his mother, trying more or less to make sense and gain some control over his own life.In the background, contemporary news flows in from time to time, referring to Trump as the US president, suggesting political chaos beyond the personal chaos of these characters.I’m not really doing Winter and Smith justice. Winter is not a book for everyone, but I really enjoyed the writing, the characters and feel of it once my brain fell in sync with the book’s sensibility.Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for an opportunity to read an advance copy.
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  • Gumble's Yard
    January 1, 1970
    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 more classic sort of stor 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 more 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 quiet wisdom-from-experience ageing-female status, making it a story that’s thoughtful, dignified, conventional in structure …. The kind of quality literary fiction where the slow drift of snow across the landscape is merciful …. The second in Ali Smith’s seasonal quartet, 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 them.Sophia 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 father.https://www.artsy.net/artwork/edouard...However more 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 quartet (at least on the evidence of its first two elements) as a single body of artistic work.Similarities 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 Lux/Lexiography. - 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 equivalent 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 quartet – 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 more positive than Autumn, that the abuses of those in power can overtime be overcome by year’s of protest and activism.Smith’s concept of cyclic time (and also perhaps the reason for the more 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 more 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 quartet 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 (more 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 more 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, Quartet, Autumn) serving as a symbol for the threat of faceless and almost unknown multinationals. In Autumn, we see SA4A as a quasi-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 reputation.As an aside I have to confess that for four years I attended a Cambridge college whose centrepiece was one of Hepworth's sculptures - Four Square (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)https://barbarahepworth.org.uk/sculpt...Finally 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 – more 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 quartet. 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 question 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 periods.In 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 quartering 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 quartet, 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 more 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 parent/child relationships. In Autumn of course Elisabeth and her mother - but here not just Art and Sophia (as discussed above and critiqued 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 them.Overall I felt this was an outstanding novel and stronger than the already strong Autumn.In particular I felt that the tale was more 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 protestor.Finally I feel that despite much of the despair Smith and the characters have with the contemporary world and politics - there is a quiet 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 equally as much as the waning of light
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  • Violet wells
    January 1, 1970
    Quite 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 more. 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 the Quite 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 more. 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 more accomplished and inspired in my opinion. 3.5 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.
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  • Simon
    January 1, 1970
    I’ve so many thoughts I can’t quite 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’ll review properly when my brain stops fizzing from the immediacy of reading it. ‪I’ve so many thoughts I can’t quite 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’ll review properly when my brain stops fizzing from the immediacy of reading it.
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  • Paul Fulcher
    January 1, 1970
    OK I surrender. Upgraded to 5 stars as Ali Smith has made complete fools of us all, myself included.Everyone spent so long looking for micro-links between the two novels, no-one (at least not in any review on GR as at 9 November 2017) had spotted (other than as the merest teasing hint) the glaring and very explicit link between the two books - the Daniel-Sophie tryst in Paris that is in the first pages of Autumn and the last pages of Winter, complete with dates and details.The more mundane truth OK I surrender. Upgraded to 5 stars as Ali Smith has made complete fools of us all, myself included.Everyone spent so long looking for micro-links between the two novels, no-one (at least not in any review on GR as at 9 November 2017) had spotted (other than as the merest teasing hint) the glaring and very explicit link between the two books - the Daniel-Sophie tryst in Paris that is in the first pages of Autumn and the last pages of Winter, complete with dates and details.The more mundane truth was, he’d bought that postcard (Boubat! he took it) when he visited the city of love with yet another woman he wanted to love him but she didn’t, course she didn’t, a woman in her forties, a man in his late sixties, well, be honest, nearer seventy, and anyway he didn’t love her either. Not truly. Matter of profound mismatch nothing to do with age, since at the Pompidou Centre he’d been so moved by the wildness in a painting by Dubuffet that he’d taken his shoes off and knelt down in front of it to show respect, and the woman, her name was Sophie something, had been embarrassed and in the taxi to the airport told him he was too old to take off his shoes in an art gallery, even a modern one.In fact all he can remember of her is that he’d sent her a postcard he wished afterwards he’d kept for himself.(from Winter)And she even anticipated my review of Winter when she wrote Autumn. The first line of the last chapter:"It was early November, more like Winter than Autumn." Ali Smith, a true genius.---------------------Early November, still Autumn, an odd time to launch a book called Winter. The clocks have gone back, making it dark by mid-afternoon. Cold mornings make you wish you’d worn a coat, but then overcrowded, overheated commuter trains made you wish you hadn’t. And as the Halloween goods are cleared from the shelves, Christmas goods replace them and Slade, The Pogues and Jona Lewie are prematurely piped into packed shopping centres. But: The thing about Christmas music that’s particularly interesting, she thought to herself in a knowledgeable but not offputting Radio 4 voice as if in a programme on Christmas music, is that’s it’s thoroughly ineffectual, it just won’t and doesn’t work at any other time of the year. So perhaps this just wasn’t the right time for me to read this. One for me to revisit when it figures in the 2018 awards or perhaps in Spring 2019 when the third book comes out. But it felt like a re-working of Autumn from an author whose biggest strength has been her originality, with The Accidental thrown in as well. And this Irish Times review summed up the political side of the novel well (https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/bo...)In lieu of a proper review (read those by Gumble's Yard, Neil, Eric or Robert for a more favourable take):My Ali Smith seasonal quartet bingo cardThe Edouard Boubat image which Daniel gave to Sophie and each character recalls in the opening chapter of Autumn and Winter respectively:The Barbara Hepworth (the cornerstone artist from Winter) statue from my old College, a piece of art the students were allowed if not encouraged to climb on and through, with the room in which I spent 1987-8 on the right hand side. But here's the thing - many students (myself included) attributed the work to Henry Moore (whose sculpture also featured there), rather making one of Ali Smith's points about overlooked female artists:Ali Smith, who in person if not always on the page, is perhaps my favourite author, presenting my daughter with a copy of Autumn in Wimbledon (a place that forms perhaps the key link between the two books):
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  • William2
    January 1, 1970
    Martin Amis said that there seems to be a requisite 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 remain anathema—as it happens. Barely a month could have passed between the time Lord Soames in the House of Commons wolf whistled at a rather attractive female member Martin Amis said that there seems to be a requisite 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 remain anathema—as it happens. Barely a month could have passed between the time Lord Soames in the House of Commons wolf whistled at a rather attractive female member and when Smith began writing about it. The facts are so quickly appropriated and set down that they feel raw, unprocessed, piecemeal. This gives the novel the feel of a tabloid. I don’t want my novels filled with current events. I read more than ever now for a novel’s ability to create an alternative world. I don’t read fantasy, but I can see why readers are drawn to fantasy now. I understand the need for escapism and, thus, relief. I’m not putting Smith’s experiment down, but I do admit to not understanding it. John Gardner once wrote about how we read to be immersed in the dream. Well, there’s no dream here. Instead the novel reimmerses us in the topicality we thought we’d put aside. In this age of news hitting you 24/7 from dozens of content sources, is this what we really want—the news invading our novels too? I much prefer the sections here set in the past, perhaps because there’s some consensus on what those times mean.By contrast, in Smith’s Autumn the news was sufficiently backgrounded amid a wonderful story of a girl and an old man and how their lovely relationship evolves over talks of books and painting over 30 years. Hints of the current unpleasantness arise but do not overwhelm the narrative as they do here.
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  • Cheri
    January 1, 1970
    4.5 Stars ”God was dead: to begin with.“And romance was dead. Chivalry was dead. Poetry, the novel, painting, they were all dead, and art was dead. Theatre and cinema were both dead. Literature was dead. The book was dead.”“Love was dead.Death was dead.A great many things were dead.Some, though, weren’t, or weren’t dead yet.”“Imagine being haunted by the ghosts of all these dead things. Imagine being haunted by the ghost of a flower. No, imagine being haunted (if there were such a thing as being 4.5 Stars ”God was dead: to begin with.“And romance was dead. Chivalry was dead. Poetry, the novel, painting, they were all dead, and art was dead. Theatre and cinema were both dead. Literature was dead. The book was dead.”“Love was dead.Death was dead.A great many things were dead.Some, though, weren’t, or weren’t dead yet.”“Imagine being haunted by the ghosts of all these dead things. Imagine being haunted by the ghost of a flower. No, imagine being haunted (if there were such a thing as being haunted, rather than just neurosis or psychosis) by the ghost (if there were such a thing as ghosts, rather than just imagination) of a flower.”“…this isn’t a ghost story, though it’s the dead of winter when it happens, a bright sunny post-millennial global warming Christmas Eve morning (Christ, 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):” Winters can be isolating, leaving one feeling alone and desolate. Depressed. Fearful. Too many hours of darkness. And cold. The landscape appears picked clean, except where it is covered with snow. It is natural, an instinct, perhaps, to be filled with caution when surrounded by a cold, uninviting world, reshaped, reformed, redesigned, perhaps - even if it is the one we’ve found ourselves in before – in one sense or another. Smith brings you into the season where life seems fragile; where you’re looking at a world coated in ice, wrapped up in the ‘fake news’ reports of the day, and seats you at the family dinner table for a Christmas get-together when Smith’s four main characters include a son - Art, his mother- Sophia, his Aunt, Sophia’s sister Iris, and his make-believe / pretend Croatian-Canadian girlfriend, Lux, pretending to be his former girlfriend, Charlotte who broke up with him right before they were due to leave for this delightful holiday with his Mum.The thing about Art is that he lives more or less in his own world, oblivious to the world around him. Art has a blog ‘Art in Nature’ which he writes based on Google searches and stories he writes that are not strictly ‘fact based’ about his nonexistent visits to these spots. He also has a job working for a company researching copyright infringement. When Art and Lux / Charlotte arrive, Lux, whose very name speaks of illumination, she attempts to lighten Sophia’s life, health, and emotions, and Sophia responds by sharing more of herself, her stories, with Lux than she has with Art. As Lux sees Sophia in “not-thriving” condition, she convinces Art that they should call Iris, Sophia’s sister. The sisters had a very contentious relationship in the past, but Lux is hopeful that Iris will help her sister. The four of them, not unlike the four seasons of the year, each unique and unlike the other, connected by some tenuous thread that binds them together in this moment in time. Tying this to Smith’s Autumn are some of the political issues from the past and present time, also from Autumn there are some direct connections, some easily seen, others are slightly more hidden. An artist that was a significant point of discussion in Autumn is referenced, and another female artist features somewhat in Winter. A postcard / picture referenced. There are also some historically relevant social causes discussed, comparing the past to the present. Brexit, Trump, the unavoidable topics if you’re basing a story in this time and place.I really loved Ali Smith’s Autumn, and I was hoping that I would have similar feelings to those I’d had with Autumn when it came time to read Winter. I was not disappointed. ”God help us, every one.” US Pub Date: 9 Jan 2018Many thanks for the ARC provided by First-to-Read
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  • Wen
    January 1, 1970
    Ali Smith once again smitten me with the second installment of her Seasonal Quartet Winter, and left me in awe . It will be among my top Christmas book recommendations going forward. (Well, I didn't get to read it until the U.S release after the new year.) The book was all about Christmas: visiting family, guests, lights, snow, loads of food, holly, Christmas tree, … but none of these reminded me of a traditional picture-perfect white Christmas. Art was visiting his aging mother Sophia, who wa Ali Smith once again smitten me with the second installment of her Seasonal Quartet Winter, and left me in awe . It will be among my top Christmas book recommendations going forward. (Well, I didn't get to read it until the U.S release after the new year.) The book was all about Christmas: visiting family, guests, lights, snow, loads of food, holly, Christmas tree, … but none of these reminded me of a traditional picture-perfect white Christmas. Art was visiting his aging mother Sophia, who was little more than a stranger in his life. To this deserted “Psyche’s House” He brought with him a fake girlfriend, an under-the-radar Croatian immigrant Lux, after a fight with his real partner Charlotte. A dark house and an almost empty fridge signaled how much they were welcome. Out of desperation, they invited Sophia’s long-estranged sister Iris, who arrived at the wee hours of Christmas Day with groceries and a star magnolia in a pot for a Christmas tree. There was no snow, or was there? How about the snowstorm picture Charlotte tweeted under Art’s user name? Want something more surreal to spice it up? The holly woven through the doorknocker was gifted by a floating child’s head in his mouth! The book was about love and relationship. Iris and Sophia, who were childhood confidants, grew up to become polar-opposites in their life pursuits. Could the brief stay of a detached son and a Croatian girl unversed with English cliché help them recapture the lost sisterhood? How did Lux help Art discover his true self after meeting him for merely a few days? Sophia was able to bound with the floating head and Lux in no time; why didn’t she have the will and the ways to reconnect emotionally with his only son? I’d be remiss not to mention Sophia’s on-the-moment romance with the love of her life. There was politics, with more breadth than in Autumn: refugee crisis, environmental protection, anti-establishment, Brexit, trump, even fake news. Unlike in Autumn, those topics were used more to define individual characters than setting the scene. There were cleverly-inserted symbols: snow, stone, chain, bird…of course the surreal floating head and floating coastline in the big house. There was an overarching motives: death, frozen, winter. “That’s what winter is: an exercise in remembering how to still yourself then how to come pliantly back to life again. An exercise in adapting yourself to whatever frozen or molten state it brings you.” The book was about major characters growing up and growing old. It was about Sophia and Art growing out of there innate ultra-sensitiveness, eventually on their way to reclaim it. It was about conflicts, one of them being between pragmatism and idealism, i.e. business-as-usual and let’s-save-the-world… There were doses of nostalgia; businesses had more human presence and personalized touch in the past; museum visitors used to spend more time exploring exhibits than taking selfies. Time played a major part in the book. Several Christmases and other salient events in the last few decades, along with some imaginary ones in the future, were interspersed into what was happening at the moment. Time was the core of the book, the frame of the entire art piece. All of the above were crammed in only 322 pages? You bet. Ali Smith is a pro. All the beautiful elements smoothly flowed into each other, and the pacing was perfectly in sync with my own wandering thoughts. That said, the plot was fragmented and somewhat complex; this is not a book with a straight plot that some readers might prefer.Ali Smith gave the otherwise bleak winter the power to restore and rejuvenate. The book made me feel peaceful and upbeat. I look forward to the arrival of Spring.
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  • Hugh
    January 1, 1970
    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 paperback made this an ideal time to catch up.If anything, it is even better than Autumn, just as topical but with a tighter plot. I will start with a quote that for me could equally apply to Ali Smith herself:"I think you could maybe talk about anything, he says. There's nothing yo 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 paperback made this an ideal time to catch up.If anything, it is even better than Autumn, just as topical but with a tighter plot. I will start with a quote that for me could equally apply to Ali Smith herself:"I think you could maybe talk about anything, he says. There's nothing you wouldn't make interesting. Even I'm interesting when you talk about me."There are four main characters. Sophia is a retired businesswoman, Leaver and Daily Mail reader living in semi-retirement in a big house in Cornwall. We meet her just before Christmas. Her son Art (whose name is exploited to the full by Smith) writes a nature blog. His partner Charlotte has just left him (and is sabotaging his blog) and rather than admit this to his mother he employs Lux, a mysterious stranger, to accompany him on a Christmas visit to his mother and impersonate her. The fourth is Sophia's sister Iris, a seasoned protestor and veteran of the Greenham Common camp, who is Sophia's polar opposite.When Art and Lux arrive, it is clear that Sophia has done nothing to prepare for them. Lux suggests inviting Iris, who has been estranged from Sophia for years. There is an element of A Christmas Carol in the way this plays out, with Sophia as Scrooge. Lux engineers a partial rapprochement between the sisters. As in Autumn there are plenty of asides and subplots - the art of Barbara Hepworth and Shakespeare's Cymbeline. Lux, as an immigrant from a Croatian family in Canada who is effectively homeless and employed in menial warehouse work, embodies the most likely victims of Brexit, and is the cleverest and most memorable character in the book.I will finish with another quote, just because it made me laugh:"The literature doctor, she says. The man who wrote the dictionary. Johnson, Not Boris. The opposite of Boris. A man interested in the meanings of words, not one whose interests leave words meaningless."
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  • Phrynne
    January 1, 1970
    This is a very well written book. It is thought provoking, intelligent and intriguing as would be expected of a book shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Sadly though much of it went over my head and as a result I was unable to appreciate it as much as many other people do.Many of the characters like Lux and Sophia were interesting but they were not fully formed. The author floated a fact here and a bit of history there and I was never satisfied with the amount of information I got. Plus things This is a very well written book. It is thought provoking, intelligent and intriguing as would be expected of a book shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Sadly though much of it went over my head and as a result I was unable to appreciate it as much as many other people do.Many of the characters like Lux and Sophia were interesting but they were not fully formed. The author floated a fact here and a bit of history there and I was never satisfied with the amount of information I got. Plus things like the floating head and coastline happened without sufficient data. I needed a cause or a reason instead of which they both just continued until they floated right out of the story. I guess I mostly enjoyed the book but I finished it feeling dissatisfied. Perhaps I was just not the right audience.
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  • Teresa
    January 1, 1970
    3.5This Ali Smith novel, the second of a seasonal quartet, may go down as my least favorite of hers, though being Ali Smith that doesn’t mean I didn’t like it and that I’m not looking forward to Spring, and ultimately, Summer. I envision appreciating it more if I reread it once the series is completed.Perhaps Winter suffers in comparison to Autumn for me because there is no rendering of a lively, enticing (real) personage, such as Pauline Doty; though Barbara Hepworth and her art are used as a s 3.5This Ali Smith novel, the second of a seasonal quartet, may go down as my least favorite of hers, though being Ali Smith that doesn’t mean I didn’t like it and that I’m not looking forward to Spring, and ultimately, Summer. I envision appreciating it more if I reread it once the series is completed.Perhaps Winter suffers in comparison to Autumn for me because there is no rendering of a lively, enticing (real) personage, such as Pauline Doty; though Barbara Hepworth and her art are used as a similar (though not as frequent) device in Winter. Perhaps the fictional Lux was supposed to fill that void, though she didn’t do so for me. More than anything, though, the novel felt a bit too didactic (especially the Christmas dinner conversation of the sisters Iris and Sophia), generally a cardinal sin for a novel. We are taken through July of this year (“Christmas in July”?) so maybe it’s just I feel overly familiar with all that’s happened lately to read of it in a novel. It’s said a novelist needs distance to write of climatic events, but it’s also said that rules are made to be broken. If anyone can get away with breaking the so-called rules of novel-writing, Ali Smith can. I loved the nods to Dickens' A Christmas Carol, so it's an appropriate time to be reading this and many thanks to my good friend Cathrine for my being able to do so. Here’s another bit of enjoyment: In the first pages, I was intrigued at the mention of a postcard of a Boubat photograph, as I felt it had to be the same postcard from Autumn, wondering if it will be a link throughout the series. Now that I’ve just gone back to look for that photograph in Autumn, I'm excited about a mentioned name I’d forgotten (easily enough, as so has another character, or at least he’s almost forgotten).(Also to be enjoyed: the way the spines of Autumn and Winter look next to each other on the shelf.)
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  • Roger Brunyate
    January 1, 1970
    A Winter ThawAutumn, the first volume in Ali Smith's tetralogy-in-progress, was #2 on my Top Ten list for 2017. At first, reading Winter, its successor (how fast she writes!), I was pretty sure that it would not reach a similar standard; it seemed haphazard and jokey, strung-together rather than composed. And yet my sadness at coming to its end makes me think again. If this is the scherzo of a four-movement symphony, it is one of those movements where the playfulness feeds into a lovely long tun A Winter ThawAutumn, the first volume in Ali Smith's tetralogy-in-progress, was #2 on my Top Ten list for 2017. At first, reading Winter, its successor (how fast she writes!), I was pretty sure that it would not reach a similar standard; it seemed haphazard and jokey, strung-together rather than composed. And yet my sadness at coming to its end makes me think again. If this is the scherzo of a four-movement symphony, it is one of those movements where the playfulness feeds into a lovely long tune, which is the true point of the composition.[Yet see comment #6.]I think I was influenced by James Wood's extended review in the New Yorker. I recommend it in that it offers an excellent overview of Smith's work to date. However, he focuses on two points that I now think are relatively trivial: the author's use of surreal elements, and her love of puns. As for the surreal, one of the characters imagines for a while that she is being accompanied by the disembodied head of a young child, and another sees a whole section of the Cornish coastline suspended above his head, but these are comparatively minor episodes within the whole. Smith's verbal legerdemain is more of the essence. "Puns," as Wood rightly says, "are part of the careless abundance of creation, the delicious surplus of life, and, therefore, fundamentally joyful." And, despite the bleakness suggested by its title, Winter is indeed a joyous book—a scherzo, as I say. But so much more.A pause to summarize the story. There are essentially only four characters. There are two sisters, both middle-aged: Sophia, a former chain-store magnate, and Iris, her elder sister, an environmental and human-rights activist. There is Sophia's son, Art, who earns money by checking copyrights on websites, but writes a blog entitled "Art in Nature." And then there is Lux, a young woman whom Art hires to pretend to be his ex-girlfriend Charlotte on his Christmas visit home. Much as the arrangement stretches credulity, it leads to moments of great beauty, as Lux proves able to soften Sophia's paranoid defenses, bring about a rapprochement with her estranged sister, and enter into an intimacy with Art that is all the more special for being non-sexual. What seemed at first to be an unduly complicated story, jumping all over the place in time and focus, ends in utter simplicity.Yes, Wood is right about the puns. On the train down, Art uses the word "idiolect," a term that Lux does not know. Later, he applies it to himself, in a very perceptive self-portrait: Not an idiot. An idiolect. That’s what he is, a language no one else alive in the world speaks. He is the last living speaker of himself. He’s been too blithe, he’d forgotten for a whole train journey, for almost a whole day, that he himself is dead as a disappeared grammar, a graveyard scatter of phonemes and morphemes. Behind the word-play (for everyone in this novel is very, very smart), this is a picture of a man who has forgotten how to feel, even how to live, a man mired in winter. The opening page of the novel, in Art's voice, makes this very clear: God was dead: to begin with.And romance was dead. Chivalry was dead. Poetry, the novel, painting, they were all dead, and art was dead. Literature was dead. The book was dead. […] It turns out, thought, that this too is a word game; Art is sitting at a computer entering different terms into Google followed by “is d," and noting how many come up with "…is dead" as the first item. But—and here's the point—this nihilistic cleverness does not go unchallenged. Beyond all the many things in the contemporary world (and the book is very contemporary) that make January 2018 a winter in more senses than one—a general callousness towards the environment, immigrants and refugees, and the retreat from global engagement represented by Trump and Theresa May—there is a much more positive view of the season: That’s what winter is: an exercise in remembering how to still yourself then how to come pliantly back to life again. An exercise in adapting yourself to whatever frozen or molten state it brings you. And that, ultimately, is the point of the book.======After Art tells her about his vision of the chunk of cliff hanging over his head, Lux shares her concern with Iris: After you came out here, when you were asleep. I said, Art is seeing things. And your aunt said, that’s a great description of what art is. Another pun, but it points to one of the greatest joys of reading an Ali Smith novel: that its story has a parallel life in its references to art of all kinds, painting, sculpture, and music. And, as was the case with Autumn also, it offers a time-capsule into the cultural world of the sixties, seventies, and eighties. There is even a theme song of sorts, the German folksong "Muss i denn," which Iris and Sophie first heard sneaking out to see GI Blues in 1960, sung by Elvis Presley. Listen to it on YouTube: not only is it a reminder of how young and almost beautiful Elvis was in those days, the tune itself is a ear-worm that sticks with you for the rest of the novel.Among the other songs that are mentioned is "Mary's Boy Child," as sung by the Swedish duo Nina and Fredrik. There is a live studio recording of this from 1958 that I suspect Ali Smith has been watching. For the two are shown, improbably, on an airfield. Perhaps the planes in the background are for passengers, but they look awfully like American bombers. Which provides a segue to Iris's involvement in the Women's Peace Camp, set up in 1981 outside the RAF base at Greeham Common in England, to protest its being used for American cruise missiles. Amazingly, it remained in situ until 2000.I offer three more images without explanation, but as a companion for those that read the novel for themselves. They are only a few examples of the pleasure that is to be had reading with Google Images and YouTube by your side. Even when the references seem random, there is a kind of rightness about them—the simple harmony of a Barbara Hepworth sculpture, for instance—that says more than even Ali Smith's words can. I mentioned my feeling of being swept up in a musical scherzo, but that is only one of the two contrasting tempi of this novel. The other is a quiet continuity that extends beyond the lives of the two generations seen here, and suggests that, however topical its subject, however audacious its political commentary, the heart of the novel is timeless.Ethel Walker: Portrait of Miss Barbara Hepworth (detail)Barbara Hepworth: Two FormsCanada Warbler
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  • Michael
    January 1, 1970
    This entry by Smith puts a quirky dysfunctional family into a tale of stock-taking and personal evolution in the context of a holiday gathering in Cornwall at Christmas. It has a bit of the comic flavor of the Thanksgiving movie “Home for the Holidays” complemented by a lot of internal monologue, flashbacks, and fantasies, all played out against the sobering background of a society polarized by Brexit, populist isolationism, the refugee crisis, and environmental issues. The two main characters, This entry by Smith puts a quirky dysfunctional family into a tale of stock-taking and personal evolution in the context of a holiday gathering in Cornwall at Christmas. It has a bit of the comic flavor of the Thanksgiving movie “Home for the Holidays” complemented by a lot of internal monologue, flashbacks, and fantasies, all played out against the sobering background of a society polarized by Brexit, populist isolationism, the refugee crisis, and environmental issues. The two main characters, Sophia and her son Art (Arthur), have found narcissistic ways of coping with modern chaos and conflict. The mother, now in her 70s, and possibly on a path to dementia, has withdrawn from all her business and personal entanglements and mainly socializes and communicates with an imaginary friend in the form of a floating head of a child. Art lives his life in a different virtual world, making income from trolling the internet and TV media for copyright infringements and finding self-actualization as a blogger of poetical reflections on invented experiences with nature, which he labels as “Art in Nature”. His girlfriend has just dumped him over his inauthenticity and lack of focus on political issues. Because he has promised his mother to bring his new girlfriend home for Christmas, he stays true to form by opting to hire a woman he has just met to play the role of his girlfriend for the three-day visit to the rambling old estate on England’s southwestern coast. That choice changes everything. The young woman Art brings, an 18-year old named Lux, is very perceptive and pragmatic and sees at once that Sophia is malnourished and in need of serious caretaking. She takes the initiative to invite her estranged sister Iris to join them. They have been out of contact for 30 years due to the conflict between Sophia’s conservatism and Iris’ history of radical political activism against nuclear arms and pollution, and her adoption of a hippie lifestyle, all of which Sophia sees as having contributed to the decline of their parents. Superficially, the jousting and then bonding between sisters makes this a traditional Christmas story of peace and reconciliation. But because with Smith we are in the hands of a maestro of literary play, we get served up for our delight a kaleidoscope of allusions, puzzles, conflations, and time loops. For example, Lux, is supposedly named after the window manufacturer Verilux, but her generous spirit reminds us that her name means light in Latin and that the Madonna is referred to as The Lady of Light. She is from an immigrant family and ignorant of a lot of idiomatic English expressions, yet she is very well educated in literature. She claims to have moved to England from the Canadian site of their settlement due to the brilliance she found in Shakespeare’s “Cymbeline.” I am unfamiliar with the play, but the details provided on its plot makes it sound like it evolves as a tragedy with lots of family conflict driven murderous greed and jealousy but then ends up as a romance with all the problems resolved. Lux reveals: I read it and thought, if this writer from this place can make this mad and bitter mess into this graceful thing it is at the end, where the balance comes back and all the lies are revealed and all the losses are compensated, and that’s the place on earth he comes from, that’s the place than made him, then that’s the place I’m going, I’ll go there, I’ll live there.In many ways, this tale makes the reader judge Art badly for his pretense and fakery and then gets you rooting for him as he progresses toward become a better, more engaged human being. It became clear to me that he is pretty much a hybrid between Sophia and his Aunt Iris, who cared for him for a long period in his formative toddler years. He is sensitive to the need for equality among diverse peoples but doesn’t feel it his responsibility to get involved in helping them. He appreciates the beauties of nature and the value of reducing environmental degradation, but again fails to get engaged in their causes. We get to see the influence of Lux in helping him become more authentic and empathetic in his life. Even before meeting Lux, we begin to see his promise. For example, here is his distillation of the meaning of winter: That’s what winter is: an exercise in remembering how to still yourself and then how to come pliantly back to life again. An exercise in adapting yourself to whatever frozen or molten state it brings you.Here he begins to question the healthiness of living in the online world:His life online means nothing to those around him.When you look at it like that it’s pretty much like it isn’t really happening.Except it is.So which is the real thing? Is this library not the world? Is that the world, the one on the screen, and this, this sitting bodily with all these other people round him, isn’t?As for the time loops I mentioned, Sophia leads us on a cycle of memories of notable past Christmases as triggered by church bells ringing in midnight of Christmas eve. The experience is a bit like the sense of being trapped in repetition in the movie “Groundhog Day.” But she does experience a progressive difference. The spirit of peace on Earth and goodwill to men is getting harder to sustain in the face of changes in the world and dissolution of her family: She wants it to mean again like meaning used to mean.…There is a new meanness in meaning.Maybe the prospect of delving into a woman’s fantasy of a disembodied head as a companion feels like a deal breaker to you in terms of reading this book. I bet most of you could take it in stride. At one point she thinks of it as “her very own Christmas infant”, and in other ways the mute thing is source of joy to her: In any case, it just wasn’t frightening, the head. It was sweet, and bashful in its ceremoniousness,…Last night, as the head had amused itself by bowling itself down the hall runner at the cabinet to see how many of Godfrey’s eighteenth century English pottery figurines it could topple each time by hitting itself off the legs of it …By Christmas Eve, despite the head is beginning to lose some of its features, her empathy begins to be engendered in a general way: Had what happened to it hurt very much?It hurt her to think it. The hurt was surprising in itself. Sophia had been feeling nothing for some time now. Refugees in the sea. Children in ambulances. Blood-soaked men running to hospitals or away from burning hospitals carrying blood-covered children. Dust-covered dead people by the sides of roads. Atrocities. People beaten up and tortured in cells.For her to continue loving something that is becoming faceless is pretty eerie. Her mind makes a connection to the faces of saints and Madonnas being scratched out of many paintings by fanatical vandals during the Reformation: It was the demonstration that everything symbolic will be revealed as a lie, everything you revere nothing but burnt matter, broken stone, as soon as it meets whatever shape time’s contemporary cudgel takes.But it worked the other way round too. They looked, those vandalized saints and statues, more like statements of survival than of destruction. They were proof of a new state of endurance, mysterious, headless, faceless, anonymous.This is part of Smith’s narrative signature, to link the personal life to the aesthetics expressed in art. As I’ve experienced in three of her other books she works the history of a neglected female artist into this tale. In this case, the art and artist chosen was not so well integrated into the story. Regardless, I loved the artistry of Smith’s diversions and strange trajectory of morphing ideas that emerge as significant themes . Many readers will likely be less appreciative—all a matter of taste and a playful attitude.This book was provided for review by Penguin Random House through its First to Read Program.
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  • Maxwell
    January 1, 1970
    Sadly I didn't really enjoy this book as much as I have with previous Ali Smith books. I'm not sure if I'm finding her writing style is losing its luster for me or if this was just not a story for me. I found myself at quite a distance from the characters, and because this is so dialogue heavy and reliant on this 3rd person telling you what is happening, it doesn't leave much for the reader to figure out. There are lots of layers here about art and politics and relationships, as in most Smith no Sadly I didn't really enjoy this book as much as I have with previous Ali Smith books. I'm not sure if I'm finding her writing style is losing its luster for me or if this was just not a story for me. I found myself at quite a distance from the characters, and because this is so dialogue heavy and reliant on this 3rd person telling you what is happening, it doesn't leave much for the reader to figure out. There are lots of layers here about art and politics and relationships, as in most Smith novels, so there's plenty to unpack thematically. But narratively it's pretty straight forward and not very plot heavy. My friend Jen did a wonderful review of this book that I think I actually enjoyed more watching than reading the book. You should definitely check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DYTm8...
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  • Jennifer
    January 1, 1970
    I think this is very, very good and I love it very, very much. Video review coming soon.
  • Caterina
    January 1, 1970
    Deliciously strange and strangely delicious. It is almost as if Ali Smith had gathered fresh vegetables with soil and grit stuck to the roots and insects cowering on the undersides of vibrant, bitter-green leaves -- and a basket of irregular, lumpy but ripe, colorful fruits -- and a branch of spiky holly leaves and a bucket of fresh snow -- and concocted a meal rather than a book -- a raw sensory feast, not heavy winter holiday food. It left me feeling light inside, yet mysteriously satisfied. W Deliciously strange and strangely delicious. It is almost as if Ali Smith had gathered fresh vegetables with soil and grit stuck to the roots and insects cowering on the undersides of vibrant, bitter-green leaves -- and a basket of irregular, lumpy but ripe, colorful fruits -- and a branch of spiky holly leaves and a bucket of fresh snow -- and concocted a meal rather than a book -- a raw sensory feast, not heavy winter holiday food. It left me feeling light inside, yet mysteriously satisfied. Winter felt more integrated as a novel than Autumn -- maybe even -- wreathlike? -- but a messy wreath with loose hanging strands in all directions, like real life. (Although there was nothing quite as poignant and soul-warming as the deep friendship between Daniel and Elizabeth that was at the heart of Autumn.) In both books there's an intense awareness of "life now" -- and in Winter of course the holidays manage both to bring people together and magnify the realities of their extreme social isolation -- even to the point of (self-)damage. As in Autumn, Winter is a quartet of four interrelated main characters (but entirely different characters). Sophia Cleves, a wealthy retired businesswoman living alone in an enormous, empty, historic house, seems to suffer from anorexia and, (we think at first) some terrible untreated illness that is causing her to see a floating, growing, blue-green ball that resembles the disembodied head of a child, with whom she interacts. Sophia's estranged older sister Iris, a career radical activist, has built real community, devotes herself fully to environmental causes and assisting refugees, and implicitly or explicitly condemns Sophia's life choices; Sophia, meanwhile, is rudely dismissive of Iris. Sophia's adult son Arthur, known as Art, is a laughably bad writer who nevertheless writes a popular (but fraudulent!) blog called "Art in Nature." And -- Chef Smith's secret ingredient -- a young woman named Lux, hired by Art to "be" his girlfriend, unexpectedly becomes a catalyst for renewal. We have entered the realm of mythology. -- Muriel Spark -- quotes one of the book's epigraphs.Why was this book so pleasurable and satisfying to read despite not seeming to go very deep into any character or issue, but only to hint -- convincingly -- at the reality of these depths? I'm not sure, but I imagine (having only read two of her books) that this shimmering interplay of seriousness and lightness may be Ali Smith's forte. I absolutely LOVE the hallucinatory scenes and vivid dreams woven into the characters' experiences, similar to the dream sequences in Autumn -- they enrich the novel with their strangeness, revelatory yet mysterious. Compared to Autumn, I found the characters more complex and rounded. The often-toxic conversational relationships in Winter also worked to reveal more depth and complexity -- Sophia, Iris, and Art were all mixtures of sympathetic and unsympathetic. Finally -- it's winter, but it's also Christmas, the return of the light, the approach of the new year -- and as tired as all those traditions can seem, Ali Smith gives us a glimpse of a fresh "green dress of hope" -- and wants us to put it on.*****Update 5/23/2019: Another reader pointed out to me a marvelous connection between Autumn and Winter that went right over my head (or under my nose) ... that SO increases my sense of wonder and delight and joy! -- and also makes it important to read the series in order.
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  • Eric Anderson
    January 1, 1970
    Continuing on in her ambitious season-inspired chronicle of our times, Ali Smith opens “Winter” with the statement “God was dead: to begin with.” She continues on ringing the death bell for everything from modern day conveniences to systems of government to states of being. These pronouncements act like a wry commentary on the uncertainty many people now feel as citizens in a precarious world despite all the apparent advancements of civilization and culture. It’s also a clever play on the openin Continuing on in her ambitious season-inspired chronicle of our times, Ali Smith opens “Winter” with the statement “God was dead: to begin with.” She continues on ringing the death bell for everything from modern day conveniences to systems of government to states of being. These pronouncements act like a wry commentary on the uncertainty many people now feel as citizens in a precarious world despite all the apparent advancements of civilization and culture. It’s also a clever play on the opening of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” and his declaration of Marley’s death as a precursor to the chilling introduction of his ghost. Just as Dickens was a fierce critic of social stratification, Ali Smith’s writing critiques the way in which society has become increasingly economically and politically divided. This new novel continues with some of the same themes as “Autumn”, but focuses on a Christmas reunion between a nature blogger named Arthur or “Art”, his mother Sophia who is a successful businesswoman and his estranged aunt Iris who is a political activist. Art also brings with him a stranger named Lux who adds an element of chaos and a uniquely different perspective. Read my full review of Winter by Ali Smith on LonesomeReader
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  • Annelies
    January 1, 1970
    I liked the book more and more the more I read of it. In the beginning it was quite confusing but the more it advanced the more a cohese story developed. A story of 4 people on the christmas days in a large House in Cornwall. A normal setting with each person having his/her frustations or desires. But it's the way in which they act and speak that has his oddities. But it all felt quite natural. And I loved it. Looking forward to the next season.
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  • Trish
    January 1, 1970
    Ali Smith wrote this book fast, and I think that is how she intends us to read it, at least at first. We slow down when her images and meanings start to coalesce on the page and we suspect there is much more to this than the twitter-like, depthless sentences that don’t seem like they are adding up to anything. Afterwards, an image emerges. What is more suited to tweeting than a Canada warbler?The story, as such, is that a young man breaks up with his girlfriend Charlotte right before a Christmas Ali Smith wrote this book fast, and I think that is how she intends us to read it, at least at first. We slow down when her images and meanings start to coalesce on the page and we suspect there is much more to this than the twitter-like, depthless sentences that don’t seem like they are adding up to anything. Afterwards, an image emerges. What is more suited to tweeting than a Canada warbler?The story, as such, is that a young man breaks up with his girlfriend Charlotte right before a Christmas he’d wanted to bring her to his mum’s house to introduce her to his mother. He finds a substitute girl, who happens to be waiting at a bus stop, rather than go through the humiliation of saying he no longer had a girlfriend. He pays her—Lux she is called, though he’d never asked—to stay the three days of the holiday.Art grew in the course of this book into a grander vision of himself. He writes about nature, the churn of seasons, in a blog he calls Art in Nature. Though he rarely writes anything political, he is thinking about making his work a little more political, like the “natural unity in seeming disunity” of snow and wind, “the give and take of water molecules,” and “the communal nature of the snowflake.” He, Art, is not dead at all, though he is being crushed by his ex-girlfriend Charlotte on Twitter.Charlotte is pretty clear-eyed: The people in this country are in furious rages at each other after the last vote, she said, and the government we’ve got has done nothing to assuage it and instead is using people’s rage for its own political expediency. Which is a grand old fascist trick if ever I saw one…the people in power were self-servers who’d no idea about and felt no responsibility towards history…like plastic carrier bags…damaging to the environment for years and years after they’ve outgrown their use. Damage for generations. Plastic carrier bags? This is where Smith shines, making her argument so clear and relatable and yet so absurd. She’s funny. She’s right and wrong at the same time, like most of us. Like Art. Smith draws environmental degradation, suggesting chemical drift in the air can settle like snow, like ash, like slow poison on our lives. She compares the influx of refugees fleeing for their lives in the Mediterranean to exhausted holidaymakers using their friends’ recommendations on the ‘best places to stay.’Many images float around this book, inviting us to make connections: Iris-eye, art-Art, stone with a hole in it-eye, stone with the weight and curvature of a breast-Mother Nature…once we begin, we start looking for these parallels everywhere. Lux— she had some kind of luxurious brain, a luxurious education studying what she wanted (like Shakespeare, violin, human nature), and the luxury of floating through the world unencumbered and unafraid.Lux is an out-of-body experience, an angel who appears and disappears; a Canada warbler. Lux is grace. Lux brings the two sisters together and reminds them of their shared history, of love, of the importance of struggling to create bonds. Lux tries to convince Art to stay after the three-day Christmas holiday to talk, late at night, to his mother. At first he refuses, but when Lux says she will help, he looks forward to it.Soph, Art’s mother, is not crazy but prescient, depressed, and old. The word Sophia in ancient Greek and early Christian times meant wisdom, and clever, able, intelligent. Iris, the sister from whom Soph was estranged, is not a religious do-gooder but is targeting critical needs to save what’s best of the human race. She is named for Iris, the Wind-Footed Messenger of the Gods. Her presence signifies hope. Smith is also concerned with truth, and at some point Lux points to the notion that the truth of a thing may be confused with what we believe to be true. Is there objective truth? This question has been argued since time immemorial. It is back with a vengeance, and must be adjudicated daily, moment-by-moment within each of us. Art in Nature continues to exhibit itself throughout the novel: a female British MP is barked at by the grandson of Winston Churchill, who is also an MP. He says it was meant as a friendly greeting, she accepts the non-apology. Smith interprets this incident as snow melting on one side of furrowed ground in slanted winter sun. It turns out the stuff Art writes in his blog material is invented. Lies, one could say, but close enough to real to sound remembered. This novel has a lot to do with art and politics and what the difference is between them.Iris writes & th diff dear Neph is more betwn artist and politician—endlss enemies coz they both knw THE HUMAN will alwys srface in art no mtter its politics, & THE HUMAN wll hv t be absent or repressed in mst politics no mtter its art x IreAli Smith—and this is only the second novel of hers I have read—seems a skilled interpreter of our lives. She is involved in the struggle, and has enough understanding to recognize #MeToo began with the Access Hollywood tape; the rest, on both sides of the Atlantic and around the globe, is fallout. She doesn’t want us to lose hope, but recognizes the route to betterment is long and arduous, which is why she occasionally blows a Canada warbler off course in the middle of winter to thrill us with what is possible.
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  • Paltia
    January 1, 1970
    Ali Smith takes me to places few other writers can. One minute I am laughing so hard I feel like I might pee my pants. Then I am back to crying over how tender she becomes. “It’s the ghost of a flower not yet open on it’s stem, the real thing long gone, but look, still there, the mark of the life of it reaching across the words on the page for all the world like a footpath that leads to the lit tip of a candle.” Flawless. This book pours out like a vision whose realisation has just begun. Betwee Ali Smith takes me to places few other writers can. One minute I am laughing so hard I feel like I might pee my pants. Then I am back to crying over how tender she becomes. “It’s the ghost of a flower not yet open on it’s stem, the real thing long gone, but look, still there, the mark of the life of it reaching across the words on the page for all the world like a footpath that leads to the lit tip of a candle.” Flawless. This book pours out like a vision whose realisation has just begun. Between the covers are ideas whose time has come, exuberant and unstoppable, filled with natural power. It’s the movement of pure feeling tempered with a fresh understanding that flow together in the river of life. I can’t get my hands on Spring fast enough!
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  • Jenny (Reading Envy)
    January 1, 1970
    This is not my full review, having only just finished and then reread Paul's review where he is able to show that there is a direct connection between Winter and Autumn.What I think I love about Ali Smith, particularly in this book, is how easily she is able to show the complexity of a human, and even moreso a group of humans. How much their history matters, both individual and with each other. How they don't always say what they mean but the others see through it. How grumping between two peopl This is not my full review, having only just finished and then reread Paul's review where he is able to show that there is a direct connection between Winter and Autumn.What I think I love about Ali Smith, particularly in this book, is how easily she is able to show the complexity of a human, and even moreso a group of humans. How much their history matters, both individual and with each other. How they don't always say what they mean but the others see through it. How grumping between two people can easily shift into a shared song, because their history has such a strong pull.And all the wordplay here, almost too much, almost groan-worthy. Art is... dead? Autumn is hailed as "post-brexit" but Winter continues in the present day, perhaps more of a retreat to an old country mansion to point out the absurdities that all of us are forced to endure, from parliamentarians barking at female members to Trump declaring the return of Christmas in the middle of summer.
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  • BrokenTune
    January 1, 1970
    God was dead: to begin with.And romance was dead. Chivalry was dead. Poetry, the novel, painting, they were all dead, and art was dead. Theatre and cinema were both dead. Literature was dead. The book was dead. Modernism, postmodernism, realism and surrealism were all dead. Jazz was dead, pop music, disco, rap, classical music, dead. Culture was dead. Decency, society, family values were dead. The past was dead. History was dead. The welfare state was dead. Politics was dead. Democracy was dead. God was dead: to begin with.And romance was dead. Chivalry was dead. Poetry, the novel, painting, they were all dead, and art was dead. Theatre and cinema were both dead. Literature was dead. The book was dead. Modernism, postmodernism, realism and surrealism were all dead. Jazz was dead, pop music, disco, rap, classical music, dead. Culture was dead. Decency, society, family values were dead. The past was dead. History was dead. The welfare state was dead. Politics was dead. Democracy was dead.Communism, fascism, neoliberalism, capitalism, all dead, and marxism, dead, feminism, also dead. Political correctness, dead. Racism was dead. Religion was dead. Thought was dead. Hope was dead. Truth and fiction were both dead. The media was dead. The internet was dead. Twitter, instagram, facebook, google, dead.Love was dead.Death was dead.A great many things were dead. Some, though, weren’t, or weren’t dead yet.Life wasn’t yet dead. Revolution wasn’t dead. Racial equality wasn’t dead. Hatred wasn’t dead.But the computer? Dead. TV? Dead. Radio? Dead. Mobiles were dead. Batteries were dead. Marriages were dead, sex lives were dead, conversation was dead. Leaves were dead. Flowers were dead, dead in their water.Imagine being haunted by the ghosts of all these dead things. Imagine being haunted by the ghost of a flower. No, imagine being haunted (if there were such a thing as being haunted, rather than just neurosis or psychosis) by the ghost (if there were such a thing as ghosts, rather than just imagination) of a flower. Ghosts themselves weren’t dead, not exactly.What a beginning, eh? Much like Autumn, Winter also starts with a version of a Dickens quote. Unlike Autumn, however, Winter seems to follow Dickens' Christmas Carol in other aspects, too. We have a Christmas setting, an apparition of a head that haunts Sophie, one of our characters, and we have scenes switching between the past, present and future. And then of course, we have Lux, also a main character but she acts like one of the Christmas spirits - a catalyst, if you like, that presents all of our main characters with questions that make them reflect on themselves and how they interact with the world around them. Art(hur) is a young man working for a tech firm, hunting down copyright infringements on the internet. He's also a blogger and has a Twitter account with about 6000 followers, but the problem is that nothing he writes about is anything that he really cares about. In short, Art is a representation of the fake.When Art epically falls out with his girlfriend Charlotte before the holidays, he cannot face going home to see his mother for Christmas without the much advertised Charlotte and ends up hiring a girl he meets at a bus stop to pretend to be Charlotte for a few days.What could possibly go wrong?Well, ... There is a Christmas family argument - several actually - which is not helped by Art's aunt Iris also visiting, and she had not been on speaking terms with Art's mother for several years. In fact, it seems that the sisters could not be further apart in any ways imaginable, and both of them are suffering for it.The family get-together is set against the background of Smith's chronicle of 2 or 3 years, and is very much picking up on current affairs and topics and news items that have hit the headlines over that time.I say that Smith created a chronicle because that is the impression I got when reading again about refugees in the Mediterranean, fake news, propaganda, politicians, technology, and narcissism:Me, me, me, Iris says. It’s all your selfish generation can ever talk about. I’m going to tweet about it in a long scroll unrolling itself out of my mouth like in an illustration of a dandy by an eighteenth century satirist. No, I mean like a president. I’ll do it presidentially. I mean a fake president, I’ll do it fake presidentially.Winter is also about hibernation, the forgetting of the who, what, why. The forgetting of history. The questions of whether we need to know where we came from to know who we are and what defines us. Is it background or is it aspiration? Does it matter?And when you’ve done telling them that, she said, tell them what it’s like to come back here, when you’re a citizen of the world who’s been working with all the other citizens of the world, to be told you’re a citizen of nowhere, to hear that the world’s been equated with nowhere by a British Prime Minister.Winter is definitely a story of division, and Smith underlines all of this with factual events and quotes, which makes for depressing, infuriating reading.However, Smith doesn't rant but weaves it all together in the story of her characters, and even attempts to show a way for Art's family to work on bridging that division - not in a happy ever after kind of way as Dickens original story, but in a way that at least creates a platform for communication. It isn’t a good enough answer, that one group of people can be in charge of the destinies of another group of people and choose whether to exclude them or include them. Human beings have to be more ingenious than this, and more generous. We’ve got to come up with a better answer.
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  • Meike
    January 1, 1970
    “You’re like the dictionary doctor, she said.The what? he says. Kicking the big stone with his foot, she says, to prove that reality is reality and that reality physically exists. I refute it thus.Who? Art says.The literature doctor, she says. The man who wrote the dictionary. Johnson. Not Boris. The opposite of Boris. A man interested in the meanings of words, not one whose interests leave words meaningless.” In Autumn, the first part of her seasonal quartet, Smith uses the themes of memory and “You’re like the dictionary doctor, she said.The what? he says. Kicking the big stone with his foot, she says, to prove that reality is reality and that reality physically exists. I refute it thus.Who? Art says.The literature doctor, she says. The man who wrote the dictionary. Johnson. Not Boris. The opposite of Boris. A man interested in the meanings of words, not one whose interests leave words meaningless.” In Autumn, the first part of her seasonal quartet, Smith uses the themes of memory and representation as an undercurrent throughout the whole text (“And whoever makes up the story makes up the world, Daniel said. So always try to welcome people into the home of your story. That's my suggestion"; more on that in my review). In “Winter”, Smith now asks how authentic these memories and representations are: How wide is the gap between art and nature?The basic storyline is simple: Arthur (“Art”) splits up with his girlfriend Charlotte. He had promised his mother Sophia to introduce Charlotte to her over Christmas, and because mother and son have a difficult relationship, he now does not want to discuss the breakup with her. Out of an impulse, he asks Lux whom he coincidentally meets at a bus-stop to join him as "Charlotte" when he visits his mother over the holidays – for 1,000 £. When they arrive at his mother’s house, they encounter that Sophia is in a terrible physical and psychological state and Lux calls Sophia’s estranged sister Iris to help. The book talks about the developments within and between the four characters and features many flashbacks, foreshadowing and subtle connections to Autumn.Central ideas extrapolate from the fact that Art writes a blog entitled “Art in Nature”, in which he does indeed talk about nature, but, as Lux finds out, many incidents he writes about are made up. And not only that: After their break-up, Charlotte hijacks Art’s blog and twitter and puts out numerous factual errors about natural phenomena to destroy Art’s reputation – but the number of subscribers rises, and Charlotte’s creation of an alternative nature (yes, that’s the link) has bizarre repercussions in real life (including some heightened degree of fame for Art and monetary gain for Art’s family). As a side note: Ironically, Art’s day job is fighting copyright infringements for a major company, so he pays his rent by defending originality to the advantage of the economically powerful.But not only the making of the present, the memory of the past is also contested: Art hardly knew his step-dad (a gay man who lived a lie) and knows nothing about his biological father; his mother remains lonely in her memories of Art’s father; Sophia and Iris are constantly fighting over what happened in the past and who is to blame for what; Art himself is unsure what happened in his childhood, many of his memories are sketchy. At some point in the novel, Smith refers to the legacy we are all carrying on our shoulders – in her story, she asks what happens when this legacy contains voids and becomes partly unclear. Her references to Brexit and especially Trump hint at the fact that the history and legacy of nations can also become contested (e.g. the discussion about Civil War monuments), and that there are direct effects for the present. What do these contortions and blank spaces do to our lives, to our nations? In the end, it remains unclear whether the story of Sophia and Art’s father will repeat itself with Lux and Art. And there is one more thing that I like to point out in this context: With both Lux and Charlotte, Art discusses the idea of choice – when others take decisions that you might perceive as wrong (e.g. regarding the environment, Brexit or familial relations), can you just say “Well, it’s their choice”? When is your choice not to step in the wrong choice? These discussions tie “Winter” closely to Autumn, because both books refer to the question how you write your own (hi)story.I could go on and on about many other hints, symbols and minor plot developments in the story, but then this review would turn into a dissertation-length text (Smith clearly offers enough material to do this). Let me finish by stating that my hope for “Spring” and “Summer” is that those installments will also feature Daniel (one of the main characters in “Autumn” who shows up (sort of) in “Winter” as well), or people who were heavily influenced by Daniel (like some of the protagonists in “Winter”) – he is the most endearing character of the whole cast, and the way he unleashes the magical forces of art upon the real world is truly powerful. I am sure we will hear more about the connection between art and our lives in the two final parts of Smith’s wonderful seasonal quartet.
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  • Tracey
    January 1, 1970
    Notes to myself on reading a book by Ali Smith.1, Do not ever think you will 'get' everything first time around.2, Let the book take you along for the ride, you are a passenger. Allow yourself to be swept along.3, Remember as Kurt Vonnegut said in Slaughterhouse five, time is not linear and all things exist, past, present and future at the same time. 4, Be prepared to be dumbfounded by word play.5, Enjoy the unique, the surreal, the characters.I have no clue how to write about this one, in any w Notes to myself on reading a book by Ali Smith.1, Do not ever think you will 'get' everything first time around.2, Let the book take you along for the ride, you are a passenger. Allow yourself to be swept along.3, Remember as Kurt Vonnegut said in Slaughterhouse five, time is not linear and all things exist, past, present and future at the same time. 4, Be prepared to be dumbfounded by word play.5, Enjoy the unique, the surreal, the characters.I have no clue how to write about this one, in any way that would allow someone who hasn't read it to get it.What I can say is I'm loving this 'seasonal quartet' as these books are known as and I can't wait until April 3rd when the next one is due to be delivered. I can only sit back and say I am very glad I have these books on my shelf and I know they will be re read again and again. They are relevant now and always will be for me. [ ] 5 magnificent *
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  • Bianca
    January 1, 1970
    I noticed this one on Audible, so I purchased it, despite having wished for it on NetGalley (but who knows if and when I'll hear back from the publishers). Anyway...Winter is the second offering in the SeasonS quartet. As it was the case with Autumn, it's quite interesting, very contemporary and a bit confusing at times. (I'm not 100% sure I understood the symbolism, especially when it came to a child's detached head seen by sixty-something-year-old, Sophia. Was it mental illness, loneliness, de I noticed this one on Audible, so I purchased it, despite having wished for it on NetGalley (but who knows if and when I'll hear back from the publishers). Anyway...Winter is the second offering in the SeasonS quartet. As it was the case with Autumn, it's quite interesting, very contemporary and a bit confusing at times. (I'm not 100% sure I understood the symbolism, especially when it came to a child's detached head seen by sixty-something-year-old, Sophia. Was it mental illness, loneliness, dementia? Not sure I elucidated that aspect of the novel, if any of you did, do let me know. I guess it can be interpreted in many ways.)Sophia's son, Art, is a twenty-something, kind of clueless guy who's very contented with himself, one of those people who doesn't stand for anything, he doesn't hate anything, but neither cares or loves anything. He's got a blog, Art in Nature, and works for a copyright company, being paid to dob in copyright infringers he discovers while surfing the internet.His girlfriend, Charlotte leaves him, so in order to avoid explaining to his mother about his now ex-girlfriend, Art hires Lux, a girl he met at a bus stop, to pretend to be his girlfriend. Lux is a very interesting girl, who turns out to be very intelligent, knowledgeable and resourceful. She's Croatian-Canadian, but had to interrupt her studies after running out of money. Thanks to the instability brought on by Brexit, she's unable to find decently paid jobs, so she sleeps wherever she can find shelter, including in libraries or on friends' sofas. Lux challenges the oblivious Art, who despite writing about nature, never goes in nature. Art's nature is all fake. It was obvious in Autumn where Smith stands when it comes to Brexit. It's plenty apparent in this novel as well, although in a more subtle way. Again, Smith brings to our attention another female artist, this time, the sculptor, Barbara Hepworth. While the name was unknown to me, when looking up her sculptures, some looked familiar. There's plenty to analyse and chew on in this novel, despite its small size. It's not perfect, but it's oh so interesting. I'm looking forward to reading Spring.NB: Melody Grove, the narrator of this book was excellent.
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  • ·Karen·
    January 1, 1970
    Perhaps you can have too much of a good thing...Obviously. It's Ali Smith, so obviously it's hugely entertaining. There's another killing little set piece: remember the scene in Autumn where Elisabeth tries to use the Post Office Passport Application checking service? Well, here it is transposed to the bank where Sophia is the privileged owner of a Corinthian account, entitling her to a bank card with a graphic of the top of a Corinthian pillar with its flourish of stony leaves (leaves!!!) as we Perhaps you can have too much of a good thing...Obviously. It's Ali Smith, so obviously it's hugely entertaining. There's another killing little set piece: remember the scene in Autumn where Elisabeth tries to use the Post Office Passport Application checking service? Well, here it is transposed to the bank where Sophia is the privileged owner of a Corinthian account, entitling her to a bank card with a graphic of the top of a Corinthian pillar with its flourish of stony leaves (leaves!!!) as well as an Individual Personal Adviser (at an extra cost of £500 per annum), whose main job is to sit on the phone waiting to speak to the right person at head office and then when he doesn't get through, attempt to sell her insurance that she doesn't want. Or Sophia's visit to the optician, (I'd prefer it if you'd call me Mrs Cleves) where no-one is particularly polite or helpful, and yet as Sophia, uh, sorry, Mrs Cleves passes the girl at the counter on her way out, this girl, without looking up from the screen, suggests to Sophia that she tweet, post on facebook or leave a review on Trip Advisor about her experience at the optician's today as ratings really do make a difference.I love that scathing tone, yes. But you need a very high pun tolerance here, and sometimes, just occasionally, I started to tire of the set-up for a punning fall. Calling one character Arthur. Arthur has hallucinations. Cue: I said Art is seeing things. And your aunt said that's a great description of what art is. Or Lux (what sort of name is that for a Croatian?) so that Sophia can remember soap flakes that looked like snow flakes. England's green unpleasant land... I refute it bus... Carry Greenham Home - Who's Carrie Greenham-Home? I dunno, I begin to feel exhausted. It's almost too slick. Or maybe I'm just too old - the age at which I'm never expected to sleep on the floor, a bed will always be found for me, wherever.It's probably me, reading far too fast. It's just too much damned fun.
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  • Mary
    January 1, 1970
    But we were wounded, I was wounded, all the same. And I love my family, I love them, but when I'm with them, my wounds reopen. So I can't live with them. I can't be with them. So I came here.
  • Peter Boyle
    January 1, 1970
    Another Ali Smith novel, another three star rating for me. And the reason is this: for all the wit and ingenuity I admire in her fiction, it never truly moves me. Her work appeals to my head more than my heart.So this the second instalment of Smith's Seasonal Quartet. Winter: a time to pause and take stock of things. Now in her sixties, Sophia Cleves lives alone in a cavernous Cornwall mansion. All is not entirely well with her - she is barely eating or sleeping and lately she has been seeing vi Another Ali Smith novel, another three star rating for me. And the reason is this: for all the wit and ingenuity I admire in her fiction, it never truly moves me. Her work appeals to my head more than my heart.So this the second instalment of Smith's Seasonal Quartet. Winter: a time to pause and take stock of things. Now in her sixties, Sophia Cleves lives alone in a cavernous Cornwall mansion. All is not entirely well with her - she is barely eating or sleeping and lately she has been seeing visions of a disembodied head. Her son Arthur comes to stay for Christmas. He is unhappy too - he has just broken up with his girlfriend and hires Lux, a girl he meets at a bus stop, to take her place for the visit. And to complete the family reunion, Sophia's estranged sister Iris turns up, bearing a bounteous feast. The pair haven't spoken in years, but maybe this impromptu gathering will kindle a thaw in their simmering rift.The structure of the novel is scattered, like fragments of memory. Sophia thinks back to her childhood, happy recollections of bunking off school to see an Elvis film with Iris. She also remembers how the activism of her older sister divided the family and particularly enraged their conservative father. They are like chalk and cheese, especially in their political views, but also in their personalities: Iris is warm and friendly, while Sophia is guarded and at times caustic. She has more than a hint of Scrooge about her. But it wasn't always this way. She knew love once, with Art's father, however fleeting it was, and recalls her euphoria at their first encounter: "She has met a man who knows about Dante, Blake and Keats, who can speak like words are themselves magic things, and who apologized to her, who sensed that she has feelings and who bowed to them, who has looked at her through holly leaves and described all sorts of things to her, described art, poems, theatre, described the green dress of hope." The sprawl of the plot allows Smith to hold forth on many subjects: Art, nature, the sorry state of modern Britain. Once again she wowed me with the size of her brain and her daring narrative acrobatics. But I found the story a little too aimless and unaffecting to fully love.
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