Winter Summary & Study Guide

Ali Smith
This Study Guide consists of approximately 68 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Winter.
This section contains 1,336 words
(approx. 4 pages at 400 words per page)
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Winter Summary & Study Guide Description

Winter Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Quotes and a Free Quiz on Winter by Ali Smith.

The following version of this book was used to create this study guide: Smith, Ali. Winter. Pantheon Books, 2017.

It is “a bright sunny post-millennial global-warming Christmas Eve morning” (5). Sophia wished a “happy day-before-Christmas” (7) to the disembodied head of a child. It had begun as a speck in her eye, but over five days it had grown into the silent, sweet natured thing that floated before her. She liked it, and she thought about taking it on a special Christmas excursion, recalling the time many years earlier when her rebellious, socially conscious older sister Iris had taken her out of school to see the Elvis film G.I. Blues. They had sung the German song from it often after, even though it irritated their Second World War veteran father. Sophia was wrenched from the memory when she recalled that the banks would soon be closing for Christmas. She had once been a successful businesswoman, but her chain of stores had gone bankrupt, and she now had very little to her name other than the huge house, Chei Bres, in which she lived. The man at the bank was longwinded and unhelpful, directing her to use the machines, which turned out also to be broken.

A young man named Art is sitting at a worn-out PC in a public library in London. He has recently broken up his girlfriend Charlotte, who is now sending out inflammatory tweets from the account linked to his moderately popular nature blog, “@artinnature” (47). He gazes outside and sees a thin young woman with many piercings reading a takeout menu at a bus stop. His aunt Iris texts to ask if he is alright, and his mind turns to the impending Christmas visit to his mother. He was meant to bring Charlotte, but now he will have to go alone. Yet when he sees the woman still reading outside, he has an idea. Three days later, they are both boarding the train to Cornwall. Art has offered the woman 1,000 pounds to pretend to be Charlotte. In fact, she is a 21-year-old broke college drop-out named Lux, and she has enthusiastically accepted his offer. When they arrive at Chei Bres, the heat is up high and Sophia is wrapped in heavy winter clothing. She tells them to leave, but Lux steps into action and insists Art ask his aunt Iris to help, even though she and Sophia haven’t spoken for 30 years.

Sophia heard the church bell strike midnight and went down to the kitchen, where she found the pierced young woman Charlotte eating eggs. She commented that her accent is not English, but said she would accept her as English because of her partnership with her son, but Charlotte said she didn’t see herself that way. Charlotte told her that Iris had arrived, and shocked, Sophia went to her bare cupboards and found them full of food. Sophia remembered the Christmas of 1977, not long after her mother’s death, when she had visited Iris’ commune, which had been in this very house. Iris’ activist friends annoyed her, and she had felt alienated when Iris refused to watch the Christmas specials with her. They had grown apart after that, and when years later a young Art vaguely recognized Iris being interviewed on the TV, Sophia told him they did not know her. Emerging from her vivid remembering, Sophia turned in bed and found the child’s head had turned into a smooth stone. She held it close to her body.

Art wakes from a nightmare in which he is chased by giant flowers. Unable to sleep, he considers doing some work for SA4A Entertainment, the company he tracks down copyright violations for. But lying in bed, he remembers his grandfather’s funeral. When Iris arrived, he didn’t recognize her. However, at the reception, Iris regales everyone with stories and songs about her father, and Art finally realizes who she is. When he asks his mother whether he had known her as a child, she says no and dismisses her sister as a “hopeless mythologizer” (173). The narrator invites the reader to witness another Christmas in 1991. Arthur doesn’t remember this Christmas. He is five and lives with Iris. They are playing with his present, a Game Boy, when “the lady who is his mother” (175) appears and takes him away in her car. She tells him that he is going to boarding school.

It is Christmas morning, and Art shows Lux a video of his father, Godfrey Gable. He had been famous for playing a flamboyant gay man on television and in pantomimes. Art had only met him twice, but Godfrey and his mother had been married. He then shows her his new Art in Nature blog post, which contains a made-up childhood memory, and Lux challenges him to write something real. At lunchtime, Sophia has to be coaxed into eating. She and Iris tentatively interact, first reminiscing about old school projects, but things quickly escalate into an argument. Art tunes out, thinking about snow, but suddenly to his shock he sees a levitating piece of rock the “size of a small car or a grand piano” (214). It is dark green and brushes the ceiling above the table. Grassy grit crumbles down. No one else can see it.

That night, Sophia banged on Iris’ door. They argued over Iris’ activism and Sophia’s indifference once again, but ultimately they fell asleep in the same make-shift bed. Later, Sophia went down to the kitchen. She found Lux again and they ate some melon. Lux told her that she had immigrated to Canada from Croatia, then moved to England to pursue an undergraduate degree in literature. She had been forced to stop when she ran out of funds. Sophia decided to tell her the real story of her “son’s father” (248).

It is Christmas Day at Chei Bres, and Sophia runs into a man while she is out walking. He tells her Charlie Chaplin has died, and this begins an intense conversation that lasts hours. When he walks her home, they kiss and exchange addresses. Iris loses his address and they don’t see each other for eight years, until chance brings them together on a London street. Reunited, they go to his house and have passionate sex. He shows her a sculpture of two stones, one nestled inside a whole in another, and Sophia realizes she is in love, but he is much older and it is a bad match. Later, pregnant with the man’s baby, she marries Godfrey Gable out of mutual interest.

On Boxing Day, a bus full of birdwatchers arrives at Chei Bres. They have been drawn by a tweet by Charlotte acting as @artinnature, in which she claims to have spotted a Canadian warbler, and she has invited them to Art’s house. The Cleves entertain them until they head back out on their quixotic quest, then the family and Lux gathers around the fire. Things are going well until Art brings up a memory of being told a story about “a boy lost in the snow at Christmas who finds himself in the underworld” (298). Both sisters claim to have told him the story, and things quickly grow heated, turning into an argument over whether Art had lived with Iris as a child. Right at the conflict’s peak, the two sisters break into a song in German in perfect harmony.

After Christmas, Art will make peace with Charlotte, finally achieving closure. He will write SA4A to ask for a meeting to talk about his position, but he will only get a robotic response. Art realizes he misses Lux and searches for her. In the end, he will go to the library and ask for a copy of Cymbeline, a Shakespeare play with a twisted plot that Lux loves and said reminded her of his confused family. Walking by the burned ruin of Grenfell tower, he messages Iris and Sophia, who are now begrudgingly reunited.

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