Christmas 2016 is a time of memory and confrontation for two estranged sisters in this second installment of the British author’s Seasonal Quartet.
When Arthur arrives from London at his mother’s Cornwall mansion on Christmas Eve, he's with Lux, a lesbian from Croatia he's paying to pretend to be the girlfriend he told Mom he would be bringing. He's recently broken up with his actual paramour, who's posting embarrassing tweets about his blog, Art in Nature (one of these tweets will culminate in a busload of bird-watchers arriving at the mansion on Boxing Day). His mother, Sophia, has almost no food in her house, but Arthur calls her sister, Iris, who arrives with provisions, rather too easily ending almost three decades of silence between the siblings. Over the course of three days, the older women will revisit the sources of their antipathy—personalities, political leanings, lifestyle choices—and rediscover the affection that still waits beneath unforgotten grievances. The writing seems deceptively informal, with a few glimpses of stunning prose. The narrative can be challenging, as it veers in many directions the way memory serves up fragments unbidden, often funny, sometimes wistful, suggesting a garrulous old friend riffing on a gripe or sharing an anecdote. Smith (Autumn, 2016, etc.) knits together the present-time narrative and many flashbacks to reveal secrets, ironies, old loves, and the unfolding lives enriched by them. She embarked in 2016 on a sequence of four novels, each named after a season. Though the first two can be read separately, Smith has also forged intriguing links between them from history and current events, including fences and protests, female visual artists, and the fallout from Brexit.
A sprightly, digressive, intriguing fandango on life and time.