“God was dead, to begin with. Romance was dead. Chivalry was dead.”
WHEN, finally, we get everyone into the same room, the intimacy starts to crackle. Ali Smith is at her best when she has people talking to each other. Each one here is carefully drawn, and then turned around a little for another perspective, usually a flash into their past.
The opening – as above – is really a poem, even a rant, which then flows into a lot of small carriages of consciousness on a railway line of Smith’s imagination wandering through the years with visits to the Greenham Common protests, to watching Elvis Presley movies.
As in the first book Autumn, much is drawn from popular culture, the charming floating head recalls the Mekon in the comic Eagle or even ET. And there is a sub theme of things literary – from starting out in the opticians to the kind of poetry you might find in the New Yorker disguised as text to Shakespeare’s ambiguous Cymbeline. The plot moves by way of small explosions.
Charlotte is both a nightmare and in another lyrical flashback adored for her “detritus of necklaces and bangles” and her “endless hurt and fury at the world” and ”taking everything personally”. Charlotte is having a major paddy. Arthur is getting it full on.
We open with a less than believable fairy story of the man who pays a girl he meets at a bus stop to come down to Cornwall for Christmas to meet his mother and pretend to be his girlfriend – the said girlfriend, Charlotte, is being difficult, but then mum is also being difficult, and the difficult, older, estranged sister has to be called in to help…we are shaping up not so much for winter but the Christmas from hell…Arthur, named for and often called, Art, is being overwhelmed.
I was worried we were not going to go anywhere, but unlike Autumn this is a fully rounded proper novel. The connection between the two books does not seem to go much deeper than topical references from news events and a style of approach. This is the better book.
Fast paced, easy reading, sometimes funny but most of all full of memorable, rather likeable, extreme women…