In Winter everything has fallen away. The trees have been stripped of their leaves, and all you have left is the bare structure. It is in winter that you can see what you are working with.
The second of Ali Smith’s seasonal quartet Winter, following the Man Booker-nominated Autumn, arrived when I needed it most – in a physical winter, but also in a winter of identity. The novel tells the story of four people, a family of sorts, who spend Christmas together in a huge house in Cornwall.
Art, Sophia, Iris, and Lux.
Art, or Arthur, writes a nature blog, and muses on the death of art and nature and blogs and the Internet. Sophia, Art’s mother is cold and unforgiving and her sister Iris is an activist. And Lux is the girl Art paid to pretend to be Charlotte, his recent ex-girlfriend.
Like any family, and at any family gathering, tensions run high. Sophia and Iris have not spoken for many years, Art has broken up with Charlotte. And then there’s Lux.
Lux. Light and soap (god I will never tire of Ali Smith’s wordplay). And in the novel, Lux is both. Completely unrelated (figuratively and metaphorically) to the family, Lux illuminates and cleanses. To a family that is estranged, Lux sheds light on the true natures and motivations of the others, just as she cleanses the unit of their grievances and pasts. Setting right – well, as right as can be – the personalities under that one roof.
It’s a book of hospitality, that speaks to the time it was written in. In a house of fifteen rooms for four people it raises the question – Is there enough room? Is there enough room for these four people who are all so at odds with one another? If not, who gets to decide?
Living in a post-Brexit Britain, those are the same questions that I ask every day. Is there enough room in the world for everyone? How do we live together in the world without putting up walls and fences? If we cannot live in a house of only four people, how can we expect to live in the world with billions of others?
Like Art and Sophia and Iris, the world needs Lux. We need light to shine on our faults, privilege, and errors; and we need soap to cleanse our prejudices.
Who is the Lux of my world today? Or of our world?
I think Lux is education and activism. Lux is solidarity and truth. Lux is strength and purpose and above all, acceptance. In a world shrouded by winter, when everything is bare, we can see what’s left, and we can see the way forward.