WINTER, ALI SMITH’S FOLLOW UP TO AUTUMN FROM HER SEASON QUARTET, IS A SIGN OF THE TIMES NOVEL
Hot on the heels of Autumn making this year’s Man Booker shortlist comes Winter, the second of Ali Smith’s Season Quartet. In the same way that Autumn spoke directly to the contemporary moment — “Here’s an old story so new that it’s still in the middle of happening” — so too Winter is set in a recognisable world, not the dead of winter of a Britain of yesteryear, but rather “a bright sunny post-millennial global-warming Christmas Eve morning.”
It’s a story “about real things really happening in the real world involving real people in real time on the real earth.”
Winter isn’t Autumn’s sequel, there’s no carry-over of characters or story, but there are structural similarities between the two volumes, both in terms of the dynamic of a younger generation in dialogue with an older, and the central role played by an artist and their work.
At the heart of the story is Sophia and her older sister Iris, the former a retired businesswoman in her 60s, the latter a lifelong activist, and their interactions with Sophia’s 20-something son Art, and Lux, a Croatian-canadian immigrant whom he pays to pretend to be his girlfriend for Christmas.
Where Autumn wove the story of forgotten
Pop artist Pauline Boty into its pages, here it’s the more famous Barbara Hepworth who plays an important role. (Art’s father was a fan, introducing Sophia to the work.) What would be clunky in another writer’s work is seamless in Smith’s, and integral too. As Iris attests: “Art is seeing things.” So too 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.
Although there’s no traditional Christmas miracle in Winter, the entire book is in its own way testament to the miraculous powers of the creative arts.