This is not a continuation of Autumn, at least not in terms of plots and characters, but the books converse vociferously as they revise each other’s signs and symbols … Protest is one of the novel’s great subjects. CND songs are its tune as much as the old Christmas numbers. It celebrates those who have thought in terms of society rather than self, who have had nightmares (of nuclear winter, of silent spring) and taken them seriously in every living daylight hour … Little is resolved at the end, but the novel works through correspondences that jump across bounds and make accord between unlike things. Leaping, laughing, sad, generous and winter-wise, this is a thing of grace.
What Smith has achieved in her cycle so far is exactly what we need artists to do in disorienting times: make sense of events, console us, show us how we got here, help us believe that we will find our way through. Often, that’s what we lean on the classics for, finding answers in metaphor. But in Winter, as in Autumn, Smith gives us a potent, necessary source of sustenance that speaks directly to our age … Told with warm, sometimes grim humor in a come-closer voice, Winter invites us into a microcosm of a fractured, coldly furious, inward-gazing country whose neighborly priorities have shifted since the World War II generation.
Ali Smith is flat-out brilliant, and she's on fire these days ... Winter follows on the heels of Autumn — naturally. But aside from an exquisitely subtle link, the two books share concerns rather than characters or storylines and can be read separately. Their point of connection, so understated it's easy to miss, demonstrates yet again Smith's skill at revealing surprising relationships between seemingly disparate narrative threads ... You can trust Smith to snow us once again with her uncanny ability to combine brainy playfulness with depth, topicality with timelessness, and complexity with accessibility while delivering an impassioned defense of human decency and art.
Shifting from Autumn to Winter, and then plunging on through the rest of the year, Smith is the one doing the telling, which means the books can’t help connecting through various channels, most notably her vast supply of preoccupations … The sitcom trope is deposited lightly: Smith is comfortable with the setup, just as she is with her pop culture references. She seems genuinely interested in them because she is interested in the entire culture and its shifts, both glacial and volcanic … Smith seems to be using her cycle as a way to process the larger trauma of our breaking, swirling world — over time, over human moments, over seasons. Each novel will give her a new chance to inspect her preoccupations in a different light. In Winter, the light inside this great novelist’s gorgeous snow globe is utterly original, and it definitely illuminates.
This second novel in her quartet of seasonal fictions mines down through the ‘tangled-up messed-up farce’ of headline news, first to recent history, then deeper into a bedrock of myth … Smith...never becomes a slave to topicality. Her many-layered artistry softens rage or sorrow. These novels seek to bring our time and deep time together … If Ali Smith’s four quartets in, and about, time do not endure to rank among the most original, consoling and inspiring of artistic responses to ‘this mad and bitter mess’ of the present, then we will have plunged into an even bleaker midwinter than people often fear.
Winter is an insubordinate folk tale, with echoes of the fiction of Iris Murdoch and Angela Carter, that plays out against a world gone wrong ... If I’d rank Winter a notch below Autumn in terms of its cohesion and pure witchy cerebral power, there are few writers on the world stage who are producing fiction this offbeat and alluring...Finally, each of these books has an elastic structure, one that allows Smith the freedom to write as if improvising a bedtime story. The combination of dreaminess and acuity is what gives these books their tang ... Smith does not wear her politics as lightly in Winter as she did in Autumn. There is perhaps one speech too many about how we are all in this world together. This novel takes more patience than did Autumn; it’s slower to rake its themes into a coherent pile. My advice: Read it anyway.
...for all the sense of bitter urgency, her work remains essentially sunny (pun-drenched, pun-kissed). Autumn and Winter, novels full of political foreboding, are also brief and almost breezy—topical, sweet-natured, something fun to be inside ... Smith’s capacious art warmly embraces variety, and creates eccentric stylistic families out of disparate inheritances ... Winter lacks the cohesion of Autumn. It’s an antic collage, with a daub or two that might usefully have been suppressed. Like a number of Smith’s novels, it doesn’t know when to end—usually an element of her joyful profligacy—and trundles along into silliness ... This sort of bonhomous playfulness won’t delight everyone. It’s not always to my taste. The cost of inhabiting a world of postmodern Shakespearean comedy is precisely that life is seen buoyantly but not very tragically. The neatness of the pun, its capacity to make things rhyme, exists at the expense, perhaps, of mess, despair, and sheer human intractability. Yet there is also something beautiful about art as play, about witnessing jokes and figures of speech and clichés and stray words shimmer into reality—seeing them become things, become central to a book’s machinery—and then slip away again into gauzy abstraction.
Winter is a triumph of imagination, riddled with wordplay, puns, and double entendres, but it lacks the emotional core of Autumn, whose redemptive elements of love and friendship seem to be in hibernation ... Winter is a spry, fascinating book, but not a wholly agreeable one. It’s almost too clever, too comfortable with the information it’s withholding ... Even an off-tempo Ali Smith, though, writes leaps and bounds around anyone else. Her prose is too luminous, her humanity too irrepressible, to be clouded over. There’s hope, too, in the constant examinations of the fragility of peace and the persistence of nature.
Winter is not quite as powerful as Autumn, a more focused book, but they are both consistently breathtaking. Despite their ethereal titles, they’re quite grounded, especially in politics (Autumn was partially a furious response to Brexit) and art (each weaves a female artist, Pauline Boty and Barbara Hepworth respectively, into its story). In the reappearance of one character from Autumn, Smith also hints at her larger design. It left me impatient for Spring … Winter is Smith’s angriest book. ‘There was always a furious intolerance at work in the world no matter when or where in history,’ she writes. For those of us living out this winter in fear and rage, watching Twitter, reading notifications, how dreadful and true that seems. But Smith’s brilliance is that...she always doubles back for another meaning.
Christmas offers an opening — through which, as in A Christmas Carol, ghosts of Christmas past and promises of Christmas future can make their salutary way. As in many of Ali Smith’s books, disrupters arrive to stir the plot … With Iris and Lux as catalysts, scenes from Christmas past unfold, and our narrow views of Sophia and Art widen and deepen, filled with the secrets and substance of their histories, even as the characters themselves seem to expand.
...the stunningly original Smith again breaks every conceivable narrative rule; reflecting her longstanding affinity for Modernism, what she gives us instead is a stylistically innovative cultural bricolage that celebrates the ecstasy of artistic influence. It demands and richly rewards close attention ... We also renew acquaintance with a wonderful character from Autumn, which raises the question of whether one can read Winter without having read the first installment in Smith’s series. The answer is 'yes'; Winter can stand on its own. But why forfeit the chance to read both of these magnificent novels? They each add to Smith’s growing collection of glittering literary paving stones, along a path that’s hopefully leading toward the Nobel she deserves. In the interim, we can (re)read Winter — and eagerly await the coming of Spring.
...the stunningly original Smith again breaks every conceivable narrative rule; reflecting her longstanding affinity for Modernism, what she gives us instead is a stylistically innovative cultural bricolage that celebrates the ecstasy of artistic influence. It demands and richly rewards close attention ... Winter can stand on its own. But why forfeit the chance to read both of these magnificent novels? They each add to Smith’s growing collection of glittering literary paving stones, along a path that’s hopefully leading toward the Nobel she deserves. In the interim, we can (re)read Winter — and eagerly await the coming of Spring.
Winter didn’t take my heart in both hands. I wanted it to. It promised to — with its cheeky overture … Winter’s characters verge on becoming mouthpieces … Granted, Smith’s playfulness ranges like a riffing keyboardist’s: word games, quotes and allusions (Dickens, Shakespeare), time travel (the sisters’ childhoods, Sophia’s begetting Arthur, Arthur’s own eventual child), even mockery of literary form … Winter gives the patient reader a colorful, witty — yes, warming — divertissement. But for me the global alarms and laments, while utterly accurate, are so numerous that the whole structure finally seems more a billboard for Smith’s passionate concerns about the fate of us all.
Smith glares—at times sympathetically, at times unforgivingly—at a wasteland of a world where Brexit is possible … The characters here are the kind who find the winter holidays challenging, not comforting … It’s a challenge to write a novel about a particular political moment—it threatens to become irrelevant. Smith has apparently tried to solve this problem in part by incorporating historical side plots that resonate with the present in both Autumn and Winter; here, it’s the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp, where activists began protesting the site of a cruise-missile base in the early 1980s. She spins a fine story, but it feels shoehorned in, and ultimately unnecessary. Nevertheless, Winter is a stunning meditation on a complex, emotional moment in history. The outlook at the end is dark, but soon enough Spring will come.
Disembodied heads roll down hallways and coastlines crash through the ceiling of an English country house in Winter, the second installment in Ali Smith’s quartet of seasonal stand-alone novels ... The familial circumstances exist mainly to underscore the relative-ity of perception and belief, which is the book’s overriding theme. And, as is the case with family, readers are likely to feel a combination of affection and annoyance ...It’s impossible, for instance, not to admire the author’s ability to cultivate so much from a sterile season. But then, this is not the bleak midwinter of popular imagination, filled with bracing winds and purifying white stillness ...swirling throughout the book are historical, literary, linguistic, artistic, mythological and religious references that grow overwhelming. 'Multilayered' doesn’t even begin to cover it ... Despite some of the more dire forecasts issued throughout the book, it seems to be weighted toward optimism.
Stylistically, the novels are similar, a series of fractured narratives, numerous flashbacks and flashforwards that cohere into an intricate collage peppered with Smith’s trademark puns and wordplay. Winter is not a sequel to Autumn but they share subjects and themes, including a discriminating observation of art, family, and politics ...Smith’s style makes the reader do the same with the novel, as if '[i]t’s also like seeing inside and outside something at once' ... These are stark descriptions of a degraded world – and, by inference, of the characters and events in Smith's engrossing tale. By the time Winter finishes with the family Cleves, the anxious, breathless reader can only hope that like Shelley’s 'wild, west' wind, which blows in as a harbinger of 'spring not being far behind,' Smith’s Spring will not be long in arriving.
Winter, the next and most recent novel in the series, contains references to Donald Trump and the lethal Grenfell Tower fire in West London last summer. Smith is trying to see 'how closely to contemporaneousness a finished book might be able to be in the world,' as she told one interviewer ...begins with a bravura litany of all the things that are 'dead,' which is essentially everything — God, chivalry, history, the welfare state, neoliberalism, hope, racism, TV, marriages, flowers, the earth itself ... And while this seasonal quartet has its angry and agonized passages — Winter includes many small but insistent notations of the way institutions of Britain’s public culture, from bus service to libraries, have been gradually privatized and downsized — its creator wants to remind us that the pendulum can swing back and that one day the sun will return.
Autumn and Winter are no more neatly plotted than life itself; like human life, they are constructed of stories. Ali Smith’s seasons are chockfull of other bookish treats and tricks: wordplay in a myriad of forms; luscious, textured prose; allusions galore; shifting points of view; characters who seem to jump right out of Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare and our own circles of friends and family ... For in Winter, in winter, under the force of family dead, living or absent, masks slip on and masks slip off. Memory reveals and conceals the past ... Smith’s skill is to make us realize how much we miss the seasonal treasures cherished by the children of autumn and winter: the ponds and canals that used to freeze over and we’d get out our skates, the balmy gift of an Indian summer interrupting late fall’s death-grip chill.
Turning to fiction for our truth doesn’t seem so incongruous in an era of fake news – yet while this novel is firmly rooted in present reality, it glories in false identities, untrue facts and surreal contradictions ...it shares a setting – Brexit Britain – and various perennial themes: borders, family, empathy, and the deep-seated connections between politics and art ... Autumn invoked a divided country, full of 'people saying stuff to each other and none of it actually becoming dialogue.' Here, we have a divided and dysfunctional family ... The novel is lucid and tightly constructed ...its disparate strands converge tautly to convey and deepen Smith’s powerful political message ... Smith’s voice, so wise and joyful, is the perfect antidote to troubled times: raw and bitter in the face of injustice, yet always alive to hope, however slight.
The writing seems deceptively informal, with a few glimpses of stunning prose. The narrative can be challenging, as it veers in many directions the way memory serves up fragments unbidden, often funny, sometimes wistful, suggesting a garrulous old friend riffing on a gripe or sharing an anecdote … A sprightly, digressive, intriguing fandango on life and time.
Like Autumn, the novel employs a scattered, evocative plot and prose style, reflecting the fractured emotional, intellectual, and political states occupied by its contemporary characters. Though the approach misses more than it hits this time out, it’s still an engaging novel due to the ecstatic energy of Smith’s writing, which is always present on the page.