Winter (Smith)

Winter  (Seasonal Quartet)
Ali Smith, 2017 (2018, U.S.)
Knopf Doubleday
336 pp.

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 shape-shifting 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. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Where—Inverness, Scotland, UK
Education—University of Abderdeen; Cambridge University
Awards—Whitbread Award  
 Currently—lives in Cambridge, England

Ali Smith is a Scottish writer who won the Whitbread Award in 2005 for her novel, The Accidental. To date, she has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize three times and the Orange Prize twice.

She was born to working-class parents, raised in a council house in Inverness and now lives in Cambridge. She studied at the University of Aberdeen and then at Newnham College, Cambridge, for a PhD that she never finished.

She worked as a lecturer at University of Strathclyde until she fell ill with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. She then became a full-time writer and now writes for The Guardian, Scotsman, and Times Literary Supplement. She lives in Cambridge, England, with her partner filmmaker Sarah Wood.

Smith is the author of several works of fiction, including the novel Hotel World (2001), which was short-listed for both the Orange Prize and the Man Booker Prize in 2001. She won the Encore Award and the Scottish Arts Council Book of the Year Award in 2002. ♦  The Accidental (2007) won the Whitbread Award and was also short-listed for both the Man Booker and Orange Prize.  ♦  Her 2011 novel, There But For The, was shortlisted for the James Tait Black Prize and named as a Best Book of the Year by both the Washington Post and Boston Globe.  ♦  How to Be Both (2014) was also shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.

Her story collections include Free Love, which won the Saltire Society Scottish First Book Award and a Scottish Arts Council Award, and The Whole Story and Other Stories.

In 2007 she was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

In 2009, she donated the short story "Last" (previously published in the Manchester Review Online) to Oxfam's Ox-Tales project, four collections of UK stories written by 38 authors. Her story was published in the "Fire" collection. (From Wikipedia. Retrieved 11/20/2014.)

Book Reviews
All multibook "projects" have a kind of ambition and grand vision, but they must also function close up, book by book, chapter by chapter. That is true of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels and Karl Ove Knausgaard’s work. (He is writing his own seasonal quartet, having just published Winter.) While Edward St. Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose novels, looked at in the aggregate, are a way to understand family trauma, Smith seems to be using her cycle as a way to process the larger trauma of our breaking, swirling world — over time, over human moments, over seasons. Each novel will give her a new chance to inspect her preoccupations in a different light. In Winter, the light inside this great novelist’s gorgeous snow globe is utterly original, and it definitely illuminates.
Meg Wolitzer - New York Times Book Review

A capacious, generous shapeshifter of a novel.… [A] book with Christmas at its heart, in all its familiarity and estrangement: about time, and out of time, like the festival itself (The Best Fiction of 2017).
Guardian (UK)

[There are] glimmers of life, laughter and love.… Smith threads passages of delicately observed natural beauty throughout the ephemera. She often lets the language itself lead her (hence her love of puns), and the intricate narrative rolls back and forth smoothly in time.
Times Literary Supplement (UK)

Smith’s deceptively unshowy writing evokes every shade of emotion.… Themes and experiences entangle, making Winter a dense, satisfying read.… It’s to Smith’s credit that Winter works on a number of levels, from a straightforward, quotidian tale about a fractured family to a deeper story packed with symbolism and highbrow literary references: a subtle meditation on loneliness, loss and aging in uncertain times.
Irish Independent

One of Britain’s most important novelists.… Winter is narrated with Smith’s customary stylistic brio … punctuated with clever word play.… Heartwarming.
Irish Times

The novel is lucid and tightly constructed.… [I]ts disparate strands converge tautly to convey and deepen Smith’s powerful political message.… This wintry spirit of benevolence animates Smith’s vision of a world where empathy overrides divisions and where animosity can melt like snow.… Smith’s voice, so wise and joyful, is the perfect antidote to troubled times: raw and bitter in the face of injustice, yet always alive to hope.
New Statesman (UK)

Smith combines her state-of-the-moment themes with a preoccupation for how to behave in a meaningful way in an increasingly technocratic world—and she does so with an effervescent seriousness none of her peers can match.
Daily Mail (UK)

A novel of great ferocity, tenderness, righteous anger and generosity of spirit that you feel Dickens would have recognised.… Winter is at its most luminously beautiful when the news fades and merges with recent and ancient history, a reminder that everything is cyclical. There is forgiveness here, and song, and comic resolution of sorts, but the abiding image is of the tenacity of nature and light.
Observer (UK)

Smith has both a telescopic and a microscopic eye.… Her many-layered artistry softens rage or sorrow.… If Ali Smith’s four quartets in, and about, time do not endure to rank among the most original, consoling and inspiring of artistic responses to "this mad and bitter mess" of the present, then we will have plunged into an even bleaker midwinter than people often fear.
Financial Times (UK)

Smith’s prose—that trademark mischievous wit and wordplay, a joyful reminder of the most basic, elemental delights of reading—makes us see things differently.… The entire book is testament to the miraculous powers of the creative arts.… Winter firmly acknowledges the power of stories. Infused with some much needed humour, happiness and hope.
Independent (UK)

A novel which, in its very inclusiveness, associative joy, and unrestricted movement, proposes other kinds of vision.… [A]stonishingly fertile and free.… [Smith] finds life stubbornly shining in the evergreens.… [T]old in a voice that is Dickensian in its fluency and mobile empathy.… Leaping, laughing, sad, generous and winter-wise, this is a thing of grace.
Guardian (UK)

Combines comedy with social criticism, playfulness with political indictmen.… Structurally, the book is intricate: a collage of flashbacks, flash-forwards and interior monologues.… Smith is a self-consciously aesthetic writer who also has strong political convictions.
Sunday Times (UK)

Refracted through the lens of a broken family in a broken home, Smith’s vision is almost without redemption, but not quite; beneath the frozen ground, some hope exists.
Times (UK)

[A] novel of great ferocity, tenderness, righteous anger and generosity of spirit.… Winter is at its most luminously beautiful when the news fades and merges with recent and ancient history, a reminder that everything is cyclical. There is forgiveness here, and song, and comic resolution of sorts, but the abiding image is of the tenacity of nature and light.
Observer (UK)

[Smith] is cresting across the contemporary in a manner few novelists can manage.… Winter is a novel in which the cold also reveals clarity. Things crystallize. They become piercing and numbing at the same time. It is a book about being wintry in the sense of supercilious and hibernal, in its sense of wanting to shut the world out. The characters have to deal with both impulses, and deal with them in different ways. But the end result is a book that makes one think, and thinky books are rare as hen’s teeth these days.

Like Autumn, the novel employs a scattered, evocative plot and prose style, reflecting the fractured emotional, intellectual, and political states occupied by its contemporary characters. Though [it] misses more than it hits this time out, it’s still…engaging.
Publishers Weekly

(Starred review.) This second installment in Smith’s seasonal quartet combines captivating storytelling with a timely focus on social issues. Enthusiastically recommended; we’re now eagerly awaiting Spring.
Library Journal

(Starred review.) Stunning prose.… [O]ften funny, sometimes wistful, suggesting a garrulous old friend riffing on a gripe or sharing an anecdote. Smith knits together the present-time narrative and many flashbacks to reveal secrets, ironies, old loves, and the unfolding lives enriched by them. A sprightly, digressive, intriguing fandango on life and time.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, please use our LitLovers talking points to help start a discussion for Winter … then take off on your own:

1. In what way might Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol be the model for Ali Smith's Winter? For starters, consider Sophie Cleves and her stinginess. How else would you describe Sophie? Does she become more sympathetic during the course of the novel … or not?

2. Who or what are the disembodied heads that appear before Sophie? If you are unfamiliar with the various myths concerning the Green Man, find out a little about him, who he is and what he represents. What might it say, in terms of symbolic significance, that he appears to Sophie as one of the heads.

3. Compare Sophia to Iris: the conventional vs. the activist. How do the two sisters differ from one another? How would you describe their relationship? Frosty … or icy, perhaps? Iris lives a courageous life of protest on behalf of others. Is she the book's hero?

4. And Arthur — not much of a king for Camelot, is he? How would you describe him?

5. "Art is seeing things" — which Iris says is the perfect description of the importance of art. "Where would we be, without our ability to see beyond what it is we're supposed to be seeing?" she asks. How does that remark apply to the characters of the book ... in fact, to the thematic concerns of the novel as a whole? How does it apply in real life?

6. What role does Lux play in the novel? Consider the myth of the Stranger who comes into a village and functions as an agent of change, exposing shortcomings and wrongdoings. (Smith has used the stranger before: young Amber in her 2005 novel, The Accidental.)

7. Lux talks about Shakespeare's Cymbeline because, "it's like the people in the play are living in the same world but separately from each other, like their worlds have somehow become disjointed or broken off each other's worlds." How does that observation related to Sophia's family? Britain as a whole?

8. Follow-up to Question 7: Winter, like Autumn before it, is written after Britain's Brexit vote. How does the symbolic shadow of Brexit fall over the novel? How does it affect the storyline, atmosphere, and  characters?

9. Consider that winter encapsulates the dying of light, death within the natural world, Christmas and gift-giving, crystalline clarity of vision, and new beginnings. How might any or all of those notions, or other concepts of winter, play out in Ali Smith's novel?

10. Consider Smith's playful use of names: Sophia is derived from the Greek word for wisdom and knowledge; Iris was the goddess of the rainbow (hope) and in the novel is nicknamed "Ire"; Arthur was the legendary king of Camelot, evoked in the novel's opening lines about the death of romance and chivalry (Arthur is called "Art"); and Lux means light. How do these characters represent their names — or ironically misrepresent them?

11. Smith's signature wordplay is prevalent in more than her use of names. What are some other examples?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online and off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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