Winter by Ali Smith: A review

"God was dead." These are the words with which Ali Smith begins the second in her seasonal fiction series, Winter. And not only was God dead; so were a lot of other things that had been taken for granted. This is the Brexit/Trump era and the world has gone wrong. The truth is turned on its head. Winter is no longer winter; it is a shortened lukewarm interlude.

The first book in this series, Autumn, was the first book that I read last year and I loved it. This book is not a sequel in the sense that it uses the same characters as vehicles to tell the story. These are entirely new characters and new relationships to explore, but the time period is still the present in England and people are still as unsettled and anxious. As one of the characters opines:
“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, and a very dangerous game to play. And what’s happening in the United States is directly related, and probably financially related.” 
Once again, in one short paragraph, Ali Smith has summed up our predicament succinctly and precisely.

The present book has four main characters: Sophia Cleves, an elderly and unhappy but wealthy woman; her son, Art, a rather woebegone n'er-do-well who blogs about Nature without having actually experienced it; a 21-year-old Croatian girl named Lux who Art hires to pretend to be his girlfriend Charlotte (who had just dumped him) and visit his mother's home with him at Christmas; and, finally, Sophia's estranged older sister, Iris, who has been a rabble-rouser all her life and still mans the barricades in old age.  

These four gather at Sophia's house around Christmas-time in the year following the Brexit vote. The atmosphere of this book is somewhat more overtly political than Autumn as Sophia, who gets her opinions from the right-wing media outlets, clashes with her left-wing sister. But the books do share some elements. They both jump back and forth in time in the exposition of the characters' personalities. Both of them feature sympathetic relationships between old and young characters - here, Lux and Sophia and Iris. Lux is able to build bridges between the two warring sisters.

Also, both books consider the work of a lesser-known female English artist. In Autumn, it was painter Pauline Boty and in Winter, it is artist and sculptor Barbara Hepworth. And each book features a kind of dreamy reality of at least one character along with acute observations of the world as it actually exists.
“You can’t expect to live in the world like the world’s your private myth.” 
But, of course, some people do. 

Even so:
“You never stop being yourself on the inside, whatever age people think you are by looking at you from the outside.” 
Even though the action in Winter takes place in that season, it would be wrong to think of the book as relating to climatological seasons. Instead, they are more about seasons of the human spirit. Smith's Spring is out already and I look forward to experiencing that season soon.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars  


  1. It's great to have you back, Dorothy! I hope your hubby is back to his old self (in good health, I mean :-) ). Nice review. I've seen this book around but haven't gotten curious. The title is not that telling from the outside; it makes more sense once you read the book.

    1. It's great to be back, Carmen, and I'm happy to report that hubby is making a good recovery.

      I find Ali Smith to be an amazing writer. Her plots are slow in developing but worth the effort.

  2. Seasons about the spirit. I like that. I loved the one Ali Smith book I have read: How To Be Both. I must get back to her. Yesterday I started a book about how Facebook was used by "bad actors" to influence politics in America and already the author has mentioned the Brexit mess as being influenced in a similar manner. Oh boy! (Zucked by Roger McNamee)

    1. I like the fact that Smith's seasonal series takes place in the present and addresses present-day concerns with considerable insight. I'm looking forward to Spring.

      It is so frustrating that we seem to be doing nothing to address the co-opting of our government through the use of social media, probably because those with the power to do something are convinced the present system helps them.

  3. Interesting premise... Cheers


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