I finished Winter last week and right now my idea of a truly great time is sharing a glass of wine and talking about it with someone who inhaled its words deeply, allowing them to seep in slowly and then all at once. Like tea from a teabag. Like falling in love. In an effort towards objectivity I would concede that it’s not flawless - as a statement of liberal values, it is less subtle and stunning than Autumn. It is also bleaker and a tad looser. But that's not what I would want to insist upon. I wouldn’t insist on its plot or characters. Maybe I wouldn’t even linger on its structure, linked to Ali's signature questioning & challenging of the idea of time in a novel. As much as I love literary allusions & clins d'œil, I might not even mention Dickens' hovering spirit. Nor Shakespeare's. Nor Spark's. Perhaps I'd discuss the hypnotic effect of reading almost real-time literature, but briefly, in passing. Surprisingly, I wouldn't necessarily talk of it in terms of its core subjects - protest, the cyclical nature of history, battles lost or won only temporarily, always temporarily, dialogue, finding common ground & a convergence point despite differences. Differences of age. Of generation. Of political leanings. No, I wouldn't expand on any of these. Instead, I'd simply focus on Ali's glee to play with words. On her miraculous power to suffuse them with joy & energy, with irony & anger. With fresh meaning. For in a world in which lies are both sanctioned and sanctified, in which words are rendered meaningless, used loosely to defend the indefensible and hide the void, Ali's capacity to unite past & present, to use words as a power cord, is more necessary than ever. “Art is seeing things” and her words, like Barbara Hepworth’s work, make one "see inside and outside at once". She sees words and makes one see them too, in clear, invigorating light. No. Words are not dead. Ali (Word)Smith makes them hum with life. And that's what I'd want to talk about.
Oh, I'd also like to greet all those reviews insisting that there's no link between Autumn & Winter, no overlap in characters or plot, with a smile. A mischievous, "Cheshire catly smile". I, ahm, I refute them thus.