Winter is the next in Ali Smith’s seasonal novels that began with Autumn last year. As with the previous one, this is a novel both about a season and characters in that season, and a novel about modern Britain and strange contradictions and times in the country. When four people gather for Christmas in a large old house in Cornwall, they bring together their own personal truths, but these don’t all match up. Two warring sisters, a son being falsified on the internet, and a stranger he wants to masquerade as someone important find themselves together in winter, for better or for worse.
From the opening pages, Smith intermingles the idea of winter—a tough, cold, stark time—with the modern world and a post-truth era in which people can believe totally opposite things as the objective truth. She asks, in a world where everything—art, love, romance, god, every media form and method of communication—is proclaimed dead on a regular basis, what happens in winter when nature reflects this deadness? Like with Autumn, the story itself feels almost incidental, some people who happen to be written together, their lives connected by art and nature and relationship.
The strange position of Lux, a girl paid to pretend to be someone’s girlfriend whilst visiting his mother, is a highlight, the kind of transitory character that Smith writes well and who feels well into her transformative writing style. The expected punning and witty style is there, but also feels a little more sparse, maybe wintry.
The novel features many classic elements of Smith’s writing, a fitting follow up to Autumn, but also gets across the post-truth, Trump and Twitter age surprisingly well, mingling the failings of human memory and the certainty of disagreeing siblings into a new form of fake news. This is the perfect book to read over the holiday season this year to reflect on the season and the year in delightful style.