Magazine article The Spectator

'Winter', by Ali Smith - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'Winter', by Ali Smith - Review

Article excerpt

In 1939, Barbara Hepworth gathered her children and her chisels and fled Hampstead for Cornwall. She expected war to challenge her passion for abstract form. But her commitment deepened. The solid ovoids she sculpted carried the weight of grief and the hope of eggs. To Hepworth, they became 'forms to lie down in, or forms to climb through'. They were

a means of retaining freedom whilst carrying out what was demanded of me as a human being... a completely logical way of expressing the intrinsic 'will to live' as opposed to the extrinsic disaster of the world war.

References to Hepworth roll all the way through Ali Smith's new novel, Winter, offering Hepworthian consolation to those struggling to process the shock of current world events, just as the lively brushwork of the pop artist Pauline Boty invigorated its Booker shortlisted predecessor, Autumn. The first in Smith's promised quartet of seasonally themed, interlinked novels was widely hailed as the 'the first great post-Brexit novel'. It was. But also, nothing like as boring or worthy as that sounded.

Autumn made a Hepworth sculpture of Brexit. Smith's airy, modernist prose gave readers rare space to walk around the subject, lie down in it and climb through it. She gave room to the voices of the young and old: witty, serious, surprising, angry and surreal. She let the words of Shakespeare, Dickens and Hardy blow like fresh air through arguments that had staled and hardened against each other. She made you feel cleverer than all that. Made it obvious that history and identity run deeper and float freer than we think.

Autumn was only slightly marred by an excess of wordplay. The flurries of words disconnecting from their modern meanings and drifting down to their roots was often dazzling, but lines like 'bagatelle it as it is' may have cost Smith the Booker.

Winter cuts back on that sort of thing. …

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