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Ali Smith has a clever mind crammed full of eclectic ideas, information, passions, allusions and word play. All very positive, but for me her second novel in her seasonal quartet (the first Autumn reviewed by me here 8/11/16) is self-indulgently over-stuffed.
The ‘story’ such as it is involves Art bringing Lux, a young woman he picked up at a bus stop, home to his mother’s huge empty house in Cornwall for Christmas after his girlfriend Charlotte has dumped him. Because there are so many issues and cryptic themes going on, the characters are incidental and never emerge as real or engaging people. Their names are all: for example, Art is all artifice and a fake nature journalist who uses Google maps to pretend he’s been places; Art’s aunt Iris called Ire is an angry political activist, and there’s Sophia and Lux… There’s a great deal about appearances, pretence, falsity, fakeness all tying up with the current moment of fake news.
The of-the-momentness of it all will please many listeners, but I found that it’s so current that the themes have already saturated the news - the refugee crisis; Trump… There is the theme of story-telling literally (stories told to children; the Christmas story) and mythologizing including misremembering or lying about the past. There are lumps of etymology (eg of ‘puddles’) which serve no purpose and aren’t arresting enough to warrant their inclusion. And there are many allusions to and word-play associated with works of literature, in particular Cymbeline and A Christmas Carol. Barbara Hepworth, Giotto, Laika the Russian space dog, Samuel Johnson (‘the opposite of Boris’)are all threaded in there too, as is the Daily Mail’s scaremongering, Greenham Common, the internet (a ‘cesspit of naivete and vitriol’) and a number of fictitious acronyms. It’s just too much so that the result is merely shallowness as she darts from one to another.
And then there’s her idiosyncratic over-use of ‘he said’ ‘she said’ in the dialogue which takes up much of the text. The narrator Melody Grove is to be congratulated on dealing with this as on the page it must be a great deal more intrusive. Generally her voice accentuates the feyness of Ali Smith. A more vigorous narration might have accentuated the more stimulating generally overwhelmed theme of Winter: burning anger with our modern world.
There IS something worthwhile in the midst of all this, but it’s all such a jumbled throw-it-all-in that it has left me with my ‘discontent’.
But Ali Smith has a huge following who will no doubt love it!
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
Literary fiction featuring a family around Christmas times past and present. Mum, Aunt, Son and his pretend girlfriend are all quirky, amusing and unconventional as most families are which made for a fun read from start to finish. What was brilliant is just how up to date Ali Smith’s novel is, she includes references to current events, Brexit and even Grenfell Towers Fire. The Greenham Common protestors feature heavily too which was fascinating; I’d long forgotten just how significant and long lasting those protests were.
This is beautifully crafted from the moment the opening paragraph spellbinds with descriptions of winter cold. Ali Smith does an amazing job with this novel, best enjoyed I think in front of a roaring fire and dog curled in close.
Yes it’s a cold weather read, but it warms the heart.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful