Lu­mi­nously beau­ti­ful A re­view of Win­ter by Ali Smith

A fraught fam­ily Christ­mas in Corn­wall is the set­ting for the sec­ond part of Smith’s sea­sonal quar­tet, a ten­der tale in­spired by Dick­ens and Shake­speare

Sunday Trust - - ART & IDEAS - By Stephanie Mer­ritt By Adie Vanessa Of­fiong • Win­ter by Ali Smith is pub­lished by Hamish Hamil­ton Source:The­

Think of a clas­sic win­ter tale, and Dick­ens’s A Christ­mas Carol might be the first to mind. It’s clearly one of the mod­els for the sec­ond part of Ali Smith’s sea­sonal quar­tet, a novel of great ferocity, ten­der­ness, right­eous anger and gen­eros­ity of spirit that you feel Dick­ens would have recog­nised. Sophia Cleves is a Scrooge for our time, a re­tired busi­ness­woman whose work al­ways took prece­dence over fam­ily. Now holed up in her 15-bed­room house in Corn­wall, she is, as her es­tranged sis­ter, Iris, ob­serves, “an old miserly grump who had noth­ing in the house for your son and his girl­friend for Christ­mas ex­cept a bag of walnuts and half a jar of glace cher­ries”.

But Sophia has not been alone; as the story opens she is chat­ting to a child’s dis­em­bod­ied head that bobs cheer­fully around her like the danc­ing light of Christ­mas past. Like Scrooge’s ghosts, the head is a shape-shifter, at times tak­ing on the form of the Green Man of le­gend, at oth­ers ap­pear­ing more like a sculp­ture by Bar­bara Hep­worth, one of the novel’s other tute­lary spir­its. Mid­night chimes over and over for Sophia on Christ­mas Eve, as the nar­ra­tive cuts be­tween past and present as if be­ing shown to the reader in a vi­sion (“Let’s see an­other Christ­mas…”).

Names are freighted with mean­ing and irony here. Iris, “the wild one”, a for­mer Green­ham Com­mon pro­tester and life­long ac­tivist re­cently re­turned from help­ing refugees in Greece, is nick­named “Ire”. Wis­dom is the one thing Sophia lacks, and must learn. Her son, Arthur, in this Cor­nish set­ting re­calls Eng­land’s once and fu­ture king, ex­cept that we are told on the open­ing page that “ro­mance was dead. Chivalry was dead.” In­stead, he is known as Art, of­fer­ing plen­ti­ful word­play; he fan­cies him­self as a na­ture writer, but his blog, Art in Na­ture, is made of fab­ri­cated mem­o­ries and jour­neys (“Fake Art”), and his day job in­volves de­stroy­ing artists by re­port­ing them to a multi­na­tional cor­po­ra­tion for copy­right in­fringe­ment.

Into this frag­mented fam­ily ar­rives the enig­matic Lux, a Croa­t­ian stu­dent, whom Art meets at a bus stop and hires to im­per­son­ate his girl­friend over Christ­mas so that he won’t have to tell his mother they’ve split up. Her name re­calls St Lucy, whose day used to co­in­cide with the win­ter sol­stice, pa­tron saint of light in dark­ness. As in Smith’s novel The Ac­ci­den­tal, it is the stranger in their midst with a li­cence to speak the truth who shines a light on a fam­ily’s fault­lines and brings heal­ing.

There is for­give­ness here, and song, and comic res­o­lu­tion of sorts An­other branch of Abuja’s pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion for vi­su­als art, Thought Pyra­mid Art Cen­tre, is set to open in Lagos, come Novem­ber 18.

The new branch which is lo­cated in Ikoyi is com­ing 10 years af­ter the Abuja one was opened.

Speak­ing on the con­tent of the cen­tres, Jeff Ajueshi, who is the brain be­hind the gal­leries and their di­rec­tor, said, “These gal­leries are en­livened by vis­ually splen­did and im­pres­sive sea of works ar­ranged and mounted in a se­quence-like pat­tern, with the­matic dis­plays that are com­ple­mented by the set­tings which add some so­cially con­scious di­men­sion to the cre­ative im­pe­tus of the re­spec­tive artists with whom we have strong busi­ness re­la­tion­ship.”

Be­sides the fact that the

And over the whole story falls the long shadow of the EU ref­er­en­dum, as it did with her Man Booker-short­listed pre­de­ces­sor, Au­tumn; there’s a painfully ac­cu­rate comic por­trait of a Christ­mas lunch fraught with ten­sion be­tween fam­ily mem­bers on dif­fer­ent sides. Win­ter’s other overt model is Shake­speare’s late play Cym­be­line, “about a king­dom sub­sumed in chaos, lies, pow­er­mon­ger­ing, di­vi­sion and a great deal of poi­son­ing and self­poi­son­ing”, Sophia ob­serves. “I was telling you about it,” Lux says, “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.”

Smith’s ire has clearly not abated; Iris’s his­tory of protest con­tains an ac­knowl­edg­ment that none of the threats she has spent the past 50 years fight­ing - nu­clear war, chem­i­cal leaks, cli­mate de­struc­tion - have re­treated, that vic­to­ries are only ever tem­po­rary. Lux’s faux-naif pro­nounce­ments gal­leries are de­voted to var­ied themes with ex­hibits in­clud­ing some of the best art­works to be found in Nige­ria, Ajueshi added that, “it is ob­vi­ous that ev­ery bit of the imag­i­na­tion we put into the ar­range­ment is to en­sure that the di­rec­tion and stan­dards are main­tained to en­hance a glo­ri­ous ar­ray of the beau­ti­ful art­works of­ten on dis­play.

“The gal­leries are all about a wealth of fas­ci­nat­ing col­lec­tions with very many pleas­ant sur­prises; ev­ery­one is given the op­por­tu­nity to find some­thing to in­ter­est him or her. There are no golden rules as to what a visi­tor may ex­pect to vis­ually learn and dis­cover, and Jeff him­self prom­ises to en­sure that the plea­sure of ex­plor­ing the gal­leries would not only be in­ter­est­ing but also over­whelm­ingly whole­some.” on mi­gra­tion can feel a lit­tle like a man­i­festo, though heart­felt. These novels are a de­lib­er­ate pub­lish­ing ex­per­i­ment, to see how close to pub­li­ca­tion the au­thor can cap­ture cur­rent events; in­evitably, even at a dis­tance of months,11th-hour ref­er­ences to the Gren­fell fire and Trump’s re­claim­ing of “Merry Christ­mas” al­ready seem like snap­shots of the past.

“Mythol­o­giser” is one of the in­sults Sophia re­peat­edly flings at her sis­ter, but from this au­thor it’s high praise; Smith is en­gaged in an ex­tended process of mythol­o­gis­ing the present state of Britain, and 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.

Art Col­lage

Ali Smith

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