[BOOKS] ✮ Winter ✰ Ali Smith – 1sm.info
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 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 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 clich 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 breadth than in Autumn refugee crisis, environmental protection, anti establishment, Brexit, trump, even fake news Unlike in Autumn, those topics were used 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 human presence and personalized touch in the past museum visitors used to spend 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. 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. WINTER Bleak Frosty Wind, Earth As Iron, Water As Stone, So The Old Song Goes And Now Art S Mother Is Seeing Things.Come To Think Of It, Art S Seeing Things Himself.When Four People, Strangers And Family, Converge On A Fifteen Bedroom House In Cornwall For Christmas, Will There Be Enough Room For Everyone Winter It Makes Things Visible In Ali Smith S Winter,Life Force Matches Up To The Toughest Of The Seasons In This Second Novel In Her Seasonal Cycle, The Follow Up To Her Sensational Autumn,Smith S Shapeshifting Novel Casts A Warm, Wise, Merry And Uncompromising Eye Over A Post Truth Era In A Story Rooted In History And Memory And With A Taproot Deep In The Evergreens, Art And Love. 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 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 mercifulThe 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 edouardHowever 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 usefulwhich 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 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 commentwe 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 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 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 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 chapterIt was early November, like Winter than AutumnAli 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 yearSo 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 In lieu of a proper review read those by Gumble s Yard, Neil, Eric or Robert for a 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 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 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 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. 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 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. 4.5 StarsGod 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 or less in his own world, oblivious to the world around him Art has a blogArt in Naturewhich 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 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 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 disappointedGod help us, every one US Pub Date 9 Jan 2018Many thanks for the ARC provided by First to Read 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 BrrrOr 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 nuclearDon 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 holono 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 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 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 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.