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Summary

Winter? Bleak. Frosty wind, earth as iron, water as stone, so the old song goes. The shortest days, the longest nights. The trees are bare and shivering. The summer's leaves? Dead litter. The world shrinks; the sap sinks. But winter makes things visible. And if there's ice, there'll be fire. It's the season that teaches us survival.

Here comes Winter the second audiobook in Ali Smith's shape-shifting quartet of stories.

©2017 Ali Smith (P)2017 W.F. Howes Ltd

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

This is the Winter of my discontent!


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!

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Cold weather read which warms the heart.

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

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Great weave of imagination and contemporary comment

Ali Smith’s entertaining play on words are nuggets of fun in an otherwise thought provoking and imagination stimulating book. As in real life, I’m looking forward to Spring

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

What a strange book this was. Beautifully written, and fascinating characters, but I'll be honest, I'm not sure what exactly was going on. Plenty of social history snapshots, in keeping with the series. Really interesting, and surreal, read.

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Waiting for Spring!


I enjoyed tremendously almost all the novels by Ali Smith preceding this one, and as the next one in this seasonal series (I presume), I had high hopes for Winter following Autumn, but this one pushes the limits of the language about the language it takes to talk about language…

Ali Smith is a terrific word-monger who makes words leap into life and pushes time into a whirlwind before it drags out again like melted cheese. Also here she is a rhythm-master and crafter of original imagery, but this novel is, on the one hand, a little too ordinary (full of - never for very long - contemporary references to internet activities and all the platitudes and experiments with text on the web) and on the other, overly surreal. It’s probably the two sides to our inner world of head and heart, but it makes the narrative flow choppy.

It became a bit tedious. I didn’t know where I was meant to be standing half the time, and I floated through the work uncertain of the very atmosphere I was swung to and fro in. Just as I was surrendering into that, suddenly I was plonked back down to earth by some platitudinal (green and liberal) political agendas.

There are still quainte word warbling games and hidden nuggets of spirituality in this work, but somehow it did not come together for me in the first listen. Days later, I am considering giving it another go, soon, or getting a printed copy alongside the audio version, for maybe, it has something to do with the narrator…? She is perfectly fine, and gives a clear, no-nonsense delivery from the first to the last page, but her girly voice might have got on my nerves and missed some of the crescendo and pianissimo, of Ali’s typical Scottish zest. It could mean the difference between a tumble-dry and a magical flurry of snow.