To fully embrace Christmas and winter, I decided to slowly read this book (a thoughtful gift) throughout the holiday season. While it was definitely a good decision, this novel left me perplexed in a way which I still can’t quite explain. However, even before I begin the review, I will say that it was lovely to read a book by a contemporary Scottish author.
Where to even begin? Since even the plot of this book is difficult to explain. The story introduces us to a few key characters – Sophia, Iris, Art and Lux. The first three are related and as the tale unfolds Ali Smith takes us on a journey through their memories, particularly those of the two sisters, in order to explain the tension between them in the present. The four characters all find themselves together for Christmas and somehow between the atmosphere of the holiday, their shared memories, and with the help of Lux the slightly enigmatic and intelligent outsider, by the end of the book they have each come to terms with their issues. For a more in-depth summary of the plot, I suggest reading other reviews, since they explain it much better than I do. For me the book was much more about the ideas that went beyond the characters and the story, as I feel like I could have read many of the passages even outside of the context of the book.
I will begin to illustrate my confusion about how I felt about this book by giving you a quick fact. Whenever I like a phrase or passage in a book, I tend to fold down the corner of the page it’s on. This book has by far the largest amount of folded down corners of any other book I own. Beyond that, something about some parts of the writing made me feel so cosy and nostalgic, and good about life that I would have gladly given this novel five wine bottles and a glass, something I have never done. Smith’s writing takes you to an entirely different yet familiar world (don’t ask me how that works) and while it is a bit quirky, there are so many details and interesting notions in these pages that it would be a true shame to ever forget them.
Now that I have gushed about Smith’s writing, I must turn to why I’m left so puzzled. Thrown in once in a while amongst these beautiful pages of writing were haphazard sentences that refer to current political events. Now I would find it interesting, had these been expanded on or if they had a real purpose in the story, but they didn’t, which left me wondering why they were included at all. Was it meant to be a way of bringing the reader back to reality from the flow of memories? If so, it was done awkwardly. Was it meant to be there as a reference for anyone reading the book in the future, in order to situate them in the political context? Again, if that was the case it was quite a weak way of doing that. Were they there to emphasise the importance of the current political climate? If so, then it was very badly done, since downplaying things like Trump or problems with the NHS to one or two sentences, lessens the gravity of these things. Since I am so in awe of Smith’s writing, I can’t really understand why she chose to include some of these references since they felt so amateur. Having said that, some issues were explored more fully so that they became meaningful, such as the threat of nuclear weapons. I overlooked the rest and can still say that I loved the book.
To somehow sum up my thoughts, I would just say that I recommend this gem to everyone. I wanted to include quotes to illustrate her brilliant writing but I could not narrow them down, so you should just read the book for yourself. Also because then I might get someone else’s input on the parts which I didn’t quite grasp.
I give this book four wine bottles and a glass.