You all know that this will be a glowing review due my Ali Smith bias.
Winter is the second part of of Smith’s seasonal quartet. As always she stuffs a lot of themes so actually reviewing her books are a bit difficult.
As the title states, the book takes place during wintertime; A season where things die. The setting of Winter (the book) is during the winter solstice and more specifically the Christmas season, which means that the days are dark. As of the book’s writing Britain is in it’s Brexit phase and Donald Trump has been elected, it is indeed a dark time. The remaining themes Smith explores in the novel also emphasise that there are dark days ahead. The opening three pages of Winter drive this point in an extreme way.
The main theme is family as the focuses on a rather disjointed family coming together for Christmas celebrations. There’s Sophie (meaning wisdom) her politically minded sister Iris, Arthur or Art ( as with Autumn art, as in painting, plays a role) who pays a Croatian refugee called Lux (light) to join him and pretend to be his girlfriend (bit of a Buffalo 66 situation there) as the Christmas season unfolds the family start to uncover secrets from the past which unites them and provides them the courage to face the future instead of hiding in their own insecurities.
As for other major themes Information Technology plays a role through various episodes throughout the novel. In one scene Sophie is trying to borrow money from a bank teller for the Christmas meal but she is directed to an ATM, which cannot cope with. Her son Art is an armchair nature blogger and seek outs copyright fringes as a day job. I think Smith is pointing out that technology is something to hide behind easily and create a shield for our real selves or even blocks out the human side of social interaction.
As with Autumn, Smith mirrors world events that happened in the past with current events, thus cementing that history does move in circles, or like the seasons, it moves in cycles. This is done through the character of Iris. In the 70’s she protested nuclear weapon manufacturing, which is a problem now with North Korea threatening to nuke the world. Iris’ father is a racist and cannot understand why Britain allows immigrants into its country , something which is still topical. Smith ties the 70’s and 10’s worldviews intelligently.
Autumn focused on the Artist Pauline Boty, while in Winther Barbara Hepworth and Ethel Walker are the featured artists. Hepworth’s paintings prove to be crucial to the plot development and also serves as a statement that art may not be dead in this dead time but exists in other forms.
The person who unites the family is Lux, the Croatian refugee who actually know about British history but does not understand cliches. s her name suggests she is the light, the one who makes the family make peace with each other and this theme of unification and strength for what the future holds is Smith at her most poignant. Indeed Winter is a pessimistic book but it is not a downer.
I am sure I have missed out other important themes. After all, one cannot read an Ali Smith once and expect to absorb everything. I mean I am still pondering the symbolism of the floating head (does it tie in with Hepworth’s rounded sculptures?) or the floating coastline (the destruction of land?) I don’t know but I will say that Winter is an angry (don’t worry there’s a good amount of funny set pieces and puns) book and while it provides an excellent companion to Autumn, I think it is the stronger book due to Smith’s openness on certain topics