After racing through “Autumn” in one sitting, I was eagerly anticipating the second installment in Ali Smith’s seasonal quartet, “Winter.” Having never read any of her writing before (I know, I hope to rectify this don’t worry!), I thought this seemed like a timely place to jump in. The lure of a series commenting on the UK experience of Brexit as it unfolds was also a big draw for me, and a feature that I suspect will cement this quartet firmly as a modern classic.
I personally found the strength of “Winter” in the last 100 or so pages, with the characters and their eccentricities really coming into their own. The plot seemed limited when I started reading (in a nutshell: a man hires a stranger to accompany him home for Christmas to meet his mother, following a nasty breakup with his girlfriend), but I think this gave so much scope for what Eric (Lonesome Reader) has appropriately articulated as a “series of absurd interactions and hilarious confusion.” Not all of these ‘worked’ for me, the floating head particularly was very distracting and seemed out of place. The writing really found its sweet spot in the final third of the novel where the characters were more involved with each other in discussions, coupled with their introspective flashbacks. That said discussions were so reflective of the current political climate made them even more effective. The social commentary is witty, poignant, and topical, reaching the US of the Trump presidency, Brexit UK, and European displacement broadly. I found the discussions between characters on these themes really powerful (particularly a scene between Lux and Sophia as to what ‘the vote’ really meant and to the humanitarian crisis broadly).
I think what Smith is doing with the quartet is fascinating, her writing contemporaneously on such an important period in modern history makes for fantastic literary fiction. I look forward to re-reading this series in years to come!
Any recommendation for my next Ali Smith read?