I just couldn’t wait to sit down and write something about Ali Smith’s Winter. Maybe not so much to write about it, because that will be the hard part, but to think about it some more. Because it is a novel that makes you think about it after reading it, again and again. It is a book of pure artistry, exquisite beauty and everything that, for me, literature is and should be.
A book modern, very much in the moment, but a book that depicts and descripts life the way it is and shows us, at the same time, what art should look like. This novel is soft, lovely, contemplative, troubling, thought provoking, intense, unusual and a bit haunting.
I have read the first part of the Seasonal Quartet, Autumn, but it didn’t have the same effect Winter had on me. I found it beautifully written, contemporary, interesting and I wanted to read on Winter as soon as possible. Each novel is completely separate, with different characters and themes (and some characters are, almost insignificantly, on the sidelines in one book and more important in the other), what connects them are the seasonal motifs, the spirit of the seasons, the dark and still hopeful autumn and the gloomy and resigned winter with a glint of hope.
How do the elements of the fantastic and unnatural/supernatural fit into this naturalistic, seasonally inspired novel? Perfectly, of course. Smith dazzles us, worries us, keeps us on our toes. Makes us wonder. Isn’t that what literature is obliged to do?
What is the floating UFO? The mother’s transformation of the object from a child’s head to a stone. A son’s fear of the coastline. Our very different but quite similar worries. A mother first worries about her grown up child and then transforms it into a regret of letting her only love go. The man with whom everything was as simple and as beautiful as his favourite sculpture.
There is always something hanging over our heads, the question only is when what does.
“where would we be without our ability to see beyond what it is we’re supposed to be seeing.”
As for the son, the fight with real Charlotte makes him question his place in the world. What he is and how he defines himself today. Is he a fraud only making a fake picture of himself on social media? What does he really think about the refugees drowning and fighting for their lives on many far away coastlines.
And then love comes in. Unexpected, different, random, unrequited. With a stranger, a foreigner. Someone who people today have become afraid of. Lux, a girl from Croatia (that is very much close to home), a foreigner, becomes very close to Sophie (not as wise as her name and nicknames tell us) a xenophobe. But love should conquer all: fears, problems, poverty, misunderstandings.
But, it doesn’t. And does it really matter? No. What matters is that it happened and made that winter, that Christmas – meaningful.
“So which is the real thing? Is this library not the world? Is that the world, the one on the screen, and this, sitting here bodily with all these other people round him, isn’t? He looks out the window beyond the boxy old pc screen. Traffic is passing, people passing in all directions, a girl sitting reading something in a bus shelter opposite and she isn’t in turmoil, is she?
So he doesn’t need to be.”
And that is exactly what this love brought to Art – peace, insight, wellbeing.
“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.”
Whatever I have written here will not explain or describe this novel well, but I do hope it will just bring someone to read this masterpiece. And in the end, the best recommendation has to be, after reading this novel, Ali Smith has immediately become one of my favourite writers. That doesn’t happen often, only rarely or not at all.