Winter by Ali Smith is one of those books which suddenly gain popularity and then you can’t escape it. Its everywhere. People are reading it on your commute, there are reviews in all kinds of newspapers and somebody is referencing it on the TV. It is the second in a quartet – each named after a season. Autumn was a dazzling success before this one and Spring is due to make a debut in a few months time. And that’s how I decided to read it.
It is a fairly short 320 pages but the writing style does take some getting used to. The narrative revolves around 4 individuals but makes multiple leaps in time – moving from memory to the present and in space – from old the rural family home where most of the novel happens to the city where one of the protagonists now lives. The author also employs Virginia Woolf style Stream of Consciousness narrative in a few parts. I eventually did get used to the writing style and also enjoyed it in parts, but the book is not long enough to really establish a rhythm that one can enjoy for its own sake.
The novel uses the coming together of 4 characters-a man, his fake girlfriend, his mother and his aunt (mother’s sister) for Christmas to provide commentary on current affairs; everything from Brexit to global warming to Donald Trump’s wall is fair game. In that sense the novel is a medium for the author to broadcast her political views. All writing eventually reflects the author’s views and opinions. It is reflected in how a character responds to certain situation or how certain historical episodes are woven into the narrative. Winter however does this overtly; there is no subtlety about it. And this is what my biggest problem with the book is. I was looking to read a fictional novel not a political commentary on our times.
Both mother and son seem to be seeing things in their anxiety. These visions take up several pages in a relatively short novel, but don’t really add much either in establishing the characters or advancing the narrative.
Winter was an ok one time read for me but for me, a good book often leaves behind a memory: depth of a character or a surprise twist in the story or a particularly clever word play or a keen observation of a human quirk. On that metric, it failed my good book test.