Reviews of Winter by Ali Smith


A Novel (Seasonal Quartet)

by Ali Smith

Winter by Ali Smith X
Winter by Ali Smith
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jan 2018, 336 pages

    Nov 2018, 336 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Meara Conner
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About this Book

Book Summary

Smith's shapeshifting novel casts a warm, wise, merry and uncompromising eye over a post-truth era in a story rooted in history and memory and with a taproot deep in the evergreens, art and love.

WINTER. Bleak. Frosty wind, earth as iron, water as stone, so the old song goes. And now Art's mother is seeing things.

Come to think of it, Art's seeing things himself.

When four people, strangers and family, converge on a fifteen-bedroom house in Cornwall for Christmas, will there be enough room for everyone?

Winter. It makes things visible. In Ali Smith's Winter, life-force matches up to the toughest of the seasons.


On a late summer day in 1981 two young women are standing outside a typical ironmonger's on the high street of a southern English town. There is a sign above the door in the shape of a door key, on it the words KEYS CUT. There'll be a high smell of creosote, oil, paraffin, lawn treatment stuff. There'll be brushheads with handles, brushheads without handles, handles by themselves, for sale. What else? Rakes, spades, forks, a garden roller, a wall of stepladders, a tin bath full of bags of compost. Calor gas bottles, saucepans, frying pans, mopheads, charcoal, folding stools made of wood, a plastic bucket of plungers, stacked packs of sandpaper, sacks of sand in a wheelbarrow, metal doormats, axes, hammers, a camping stove or two, hessian carpet mats, stuff for curtains, stuff for curtain rails, stuff for screwing curtain rails to walls and pelmets, pliers, screwdrivers, bulbs, lamps, pails, pegs, laundry baskets. Saws, of all sizes. EVERYTHING FOR THE HOME...

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!
  1. How is the story rooted in winter? Why do you think Ali Smith decided to write a quartet of books about the seasons and the changing of the seasons? How is Winter different from Autumn, if you've read that novel? How is it similar?
  2. Describe the various family dynamics and relationships in Winter—between mother and son, fathers and children, sisters, aunt and nephew. Are the Cleves a dysfunctional, divided family? Is there hope for them? Do the relationships change and grow stronger by the end of the novel? How and why/why not?
  3. In Winter, what is the importance of art and the human connections that come out of art and creativity? How is Barbara Hepworth's art and story crucial to the novel? And why?
  4. Find instances of ...
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BookBrowse Review


Winter is not equivalent to the sum of its plot points. Smith uses her characters and their actions to subtly dig at issues both political and personal. Though these are weighty topics, Smith uses her small-frame story to handle them in a manageable and more realistic way. I wouldn't be able to do justice to Winter, or any Ali Smith book, for that matter, without discussing the glorious writing style. Her love for words and literature seeps through the pages of everything she writes...continued

Full Review (715 words)

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(Reviewed by Meara Conner).

Media Reviews

Daily Mail (UK)
Smith combines her state-of-the-moment themes with a preoccupation for how to behave in a meaningful way in an increasingly technocratic world - and she does so with an effervescent seriousness none of her peers can match.

Financial Times (UK)
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.

The Guardian (The Best Fiction of 2017)
A capacious, generous shapeshifter of a novel ... [A] book with Christmas at its heart, in all its familiarity and estrangement: about time, and out of time, like the festival itself.

The Independent (UK)
Smith's prose - that trademark mischievous wit and wordplay, a joyful reminder of the most basic, elemental delights of reading - makes us see things differently ... The entire book is testament to the miraculous powers of the creative arts ... Winter firmly acknowledges the power of stories. Infused with some much needed humour, happiness and hope.

The Irish Independent
Smith's deceptively unshowy writing evokes every shade of emotion. ... Themes and experiences entangle, making Winter a dense, satisfying read.

The Irish Times
One of Britain's most important novelists ... Winter is narrated with Smith's customary stylistic brio ... punctuated with clever word play ... Heartwarming.

The Observer (UK)
A novel of great ferocity, tenderness, righteous anger and generosity of spirit ... Winter is at its most luminously beautiful when the news fades and merges with recent and ancient history, a reminder that everything is cyclical. There is forgiveness here, and song, and comic resolution of sorts, but the abiding image is of the tenacity of nature and light.

The Scotsman (UK)
(Smith) is cresting across the contemporary in a manner few novelists can manage. ... the end result is a book that makes one think, and thinky books are rare as hen's teeth these days.

New Statesman (UK)
The novel is lucid and tightly constructed. ... [I]ts disparate strands converge tautly to convey and deepen Smith's powerful political message. ... This wintry spirit of benevolence animates Smith's vision of a world where empathy overrides divisions and where animosity can melt like snow. ... 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.

The Sunday Times (UK)
Combines comedy with social criticism, playfulness with political indictment...Structurally, the book is intricate: a collage of flashbacks, flash-forwards and interior monologues ... Smith is a self-consciously aesthetic writer who also has strong political convictions.

The Times (UK)
Refracted through the lens of a broken family in a broken home, Smith's vision is almost without redemption, but not quite; beneath the frozen ground, some hope exists.

Times Literary Supplement (UK)
[There are] glimmers of life, laughter and love. ... Smith threads passages of delicately observed natural beauty throughout the ephemera. She often lets the language itself lead her (hence her love of puns), and the intricate narrative rolls back and forth smoothly in time.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. Stunning prose...A sprightly, digressive, intriguing fandango on life and time.

Library Journal
Starred Review. This second installment in Smith's seasonal quartet combines captivating storytelling with a timely focus on social issues. Enthusiastically recommended; we're now eagerly awaiting Spring.

Publishers Weekly
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.

The Australian
Winter is typical of the Scottish writer's heart-starting (and often heart-stopping) fiction­: all spark, lark and jumper-lead, playful, witty and gloriously challenging. ... Balancing delicious and irreverent playfulness with deep seriousness, Smith's engineering of tone and mode is one of many facets of the novel's appeal.

Reader Reviews

Cathryn Conroy

A Weird, Odd, Strange Book That Is So Compellingly Good, I Couldn't Put It Down!
This book is weird. Odd. Strange. But the weirdest, oddest, strangest part of all is this: It's really, really GOOD. I just couldn't stop reading it. This is the second in the seasonal quartet by Scottish author Ali Smith. The series begins with &...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Books Within Winter

An integral part of Ali Smith's Winter are the frequent allusions and references made to other excellent works of literature. Though it would be nearly impossible to catalog them all, here are a few.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Dickens' famous work is referenced from the very outset of Winter in the opening line: "God was dead; to begin with," which is a play on the opening line of A Christmas Carol: "Marley was dead; to begin with." In fact, an entire list could likely be made consisting only of Smith's references to Dickens' novel. If you've read A Christmas Carol before, reading Winter will certainly make you want to revisit it, and if you haven't, I highly recommend picking it up regardless, if only to catch all of Smith's...

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