Winter (Smith) - Discussion Questions

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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