So I finished Winter by Ali Smith, early in the first morning of the year. It should be noted that this is only my second Smith, and that I sort of fell in love with the first one I read; which was also the first installment in this series, her seasonal suite (Spring and Summer are supposed to turn up eventually, and I for one cannot wait.
Even with the first line in Autumn she had me on the hook, as it was a based on the first line of Dickens A tale of two cities. He wrote “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” which in Smith’s retelling becomes “It was the worst of times, it was the worts of time”. She does it again in this on, by using that famous first line from A Christmas Carol as a starting point to tell us the story “God was dead; to begin with”.
As I am someone who loves, and rereads, A Christmas Carol I cannot help but use it as a conceptual framework when reading. My mind looks and tries to see where the old story fits into the new. The way I read it, it is a story about Sophia; rich and alone. She has stopped talking to her son more or less, hasn’t talked to her sister in ages either. But around Christmas she get visited by them; her son first, with a supposed girlfriend and then her sister turns up. I see them as the ghost of Christmases present (the son), The future (the supposed girlfriend) and the past (the sister). This might be a completely crazy analysis or a rather mainstream one. I haven’t read any reviews of the book( I seem to get all my reading recommendations from other books, Instagram and librarians nowadays).
That is far from all however; there is goings back and fort in time, absurdities in the here and now, Art’s girlfriend drama, family secrets and much more. All in a chaotic mix.
What I do love about this book, and the previous, is the writing. It’s not exactly stream of consciousness, because it is much more airy in the text and on the page. But thoughts are mixed with dialogue and memories very freely. I feel when reading that I am immersed in the conversation, and the narratives overlap because everyone is trying to speak at the same time; much like at a dinner party.
Another thing about these books, which I must mention, is that they do not (yet) have the same characters or plot lines. It might all be tied together at the end, who knows, but currently you can read one without reading the other (but you will want to).
What they have in common is their love of culture; the references to artists, books and Shakespeare (in addition to the Dickens homage in the first line). All British culture so far; does Ali Smith have an OBE? Is she making a dash to become a Dame? Hilary Mantel has written about English history and she got one (although I’m so over waiting for the next book in the Cromwell trilogy, Mantel is blacklisted in this house, I can’t even look at her books right now. However, as soon as I hear of a publication date all will be forgiven, and I’ll start fan-girling again). Anyways, there is this dimension to these books, doors that you can open to other stories. You don’t have to, she doesn’t push it down your throat I think but introduces the topic, making it seem enticing.
There is also the mood, I must say something about the mood. In this case a rather gloomy one, but with rays of hope shining through. Many said that Autumn had a “post-Brexit feel to it” which I didn’t catch up on, but in this case the shadow of our lives that is Donald Trump is mentioned. Darkness indeed. I still love losing myself in the world and words of Ali Smith.
I hope that this year will bring a new installment in this series, and I do hope that it starts with a retelling of Bleak House, but it starting in November it doesn’t sound like the beginning of Spring. Probably Oliver Twist or Great Expectations then? I’ll through in Nicholas Nickleby for good measure; not Dickens most famous work, but the first line is a good one.