Winter by Ali Smith

I enjoyed this one, like I enjoyed the last one, despite the fact that it has an almost didactic politics. Why? Maybe it’s partly because it’s got a strangeness to it, and an off-beat humor, with absurdities and puns continuing to arise throughout. I haven’t read anything like this before. It’s not conventional.

It also explicitly acknowledges its sources (A Christmas Carol; Cymbeline) and it has a kind of human intelligence that imbues it, nailing something about human nature with a confidence and, again, strangeness you don’t find much. It’s a common enough premise–family members coming together for a holiday and having it out, with memory and secrets floating around. There’s a lot of history that seeps in, rather than being explained. The adult son Arthur (“Art,” source of much wordplay) has split up with his girlfriend Charlotte but doesn’t want to tell his mother, who has never met her anyway, so he hires a stranger (Lux) he met at a bus stop to impersonate her. The mother, Sophia, doesn’t really want them around, and made no effort to prepare for their arrival. She has been seeing a vision of a baby’s head following her around, and hearing it strike midnight over and over again, but none of that seems much to bother her. Lux and Arthur summon her older sister, Iris, from whom she has long been estranged, in reaction to the state they find her in. Iris was always an activist, and the dynamics we get from bringing her in are priceless.

It doesn’t feel contrived or constructed, the way novels with dinner table conversations about current political issues usually do. I’ll be curious to see how the last two in this quartet play out — they share themes and subjects (Brexit; unfairly forgotten women artists), but not characters.

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