From Shakespearean romance to nuclear crisis, Smith’s latest seasonal instalment is an elegant reflection on activism and protestby Rebecca Swirsky / December 14, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in January 2018 issue of Prospect Magazine
Ali Smith’s ambitious series of four consecutive books named for each season are the literary version of a high-wire act. Delivered dangerously close to publication date, they require trust from both publisher and author. Yet this allows each book to be highly topical. Autumn, the first in the quartet, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize (Smith’s 2014 novel How to Be Both was awarded the Baileys, Goldsmiths and Costa prizes) and hailed as the “First Great Brexit Novel.” Winter, set in the coldest season, runs to a hotter temperature, championing protest and activism. A writer feted for her virtuosity, Smith does not let her fans down here.
Winter negotiates despair and hope alike. Sophia, an ex-businesswoman, is having a nervous breakdown. Her son, Art, persuades a stranger at a London bus stop to accompany him to his mother’s 15-bedroom Cornwall home for Christmas. Swiftly joining them is Sophia’s gleefully unconventional older sister, Iris, who is an activist. Drawing influence from Shakespeare’s late romance play Cymbeline, the plot continues with mistaken identities, ambiguous parentage and lost and found characters.