Iced gems: art, books, music and more to keep the home fires burning this winter

From storm-tossed seascapes to skating on the Thames, our cultural critics select wintry wonders for the season’s dark days


Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara play secret lovers in Carol, Todd Haynes’s sumptuous 2015 adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s semi-autobiographical novel The Price of Salt. In 1950s Manhattan, Therese (Mara) is an aspiring photographer working in the toy section of a department store for the Christmas season. There, she meets the glamorous Carol (Blanchett), who is buying a doll for her daughter. Their chemistry is instant; an excuse to further meet is proffered when Carol leaves behind a pair of leather gloves. They share furtive, longing glances across the snow, have tête-à-têtes in the booths of cosy diners and reflect on failing relationships with men at holiday parties. The romance is slow burning and exquisite, the city blanketed with snow and lashed with rain, the cold-weather costuming immaculate. Rebecca Liu

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Flurry of excitement … Snow Storm – Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth.
Flurry of excitement … Snow Storm – Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth. Photograph: Sam Drake/Tate

Old paintings of snow scenes tend to be unavoidably nostalgic, a glimpse of a lost world that would be predictably rendered crisp and clean each winter. Not so with JMW Turner’s Snow Storm – Steam-Boat Off a Harbour’s Mouth (1842). Its little steamboat is imperilled at the centre of a terrifying vortex of black and grey, a symbol of humankind’s ingenuity rendered useless as immense natural forces bear down on it. In Turner’s day, these events were an anomaly, remembered for years by their witnesses. Adding extra drama to the work, the artist famously – and probably falsely – claimed that to experience this icy tempest’s effects he’d been lashed to the mast for hours and feared for his life. The mortal threat posed by extreme weather needs no such embellishment now. Skye Sherwin

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Frosty reception … Liz Harris.
Frosty reception … Liz Harris. Photograph: Garrett Grove

There is something about Grouper (AKA American artist Liz Harris) that has always reminded me of winter snowfall, albeit through a very melancholy lens. Heavy on the synths and light on vocals, Grouper’s 2011 two-part ambient album AIA: Dream Loss/AIA: Alien Observer blends church-like comfort and cold resignation, conjuring up a sense of the serenity that a mountain climber suposedly feels in their dying moments of hypothermia. Cheery, eh? Perhaps not overtly so, but whether you’re ducking on to a damp night bus or quietly ushering in the new year with a lonely toast, I promise there’s a romance to its quiet, meditative solitude. Jenessa Williams

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Orlando by Virginia Woolf
‘Prose as exquisite as the weather is cold’ … Orlando Photograph: -

The Great Frost that Virginia Woolf describes in Orlando is so severe that birds freeze in mid-air and drop like stones to the ground. “At Norwich,” she writes, “a young countrywoman started to cross the road in her usual robust health and was seen by the onlookers to turn visibly to powder and be blown in a puff of dust over the roofs as the icy blast struck her at the street corner.” This is also a season of delight: of ice fairs on the River Thames, where frozen roses shower down on Queen Elizabeth and her ladies, while coloured balloons hover motionless in the air. And then Woolf gives us the joy of skating downriver with a new love interest. Her prose is as exquisite as the weather is cold, creating one of the most memorable winters in literary history. Sam Jordison

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Winter of discontent … The Long Dark.
Winter of discontent … The Long Dark. Photograph: Hinterland Studio

Wintry set-dressing has been a video game standard since Super Mario’s first ice levels, but The Long Dark is a game about winter – specifically, an endless winter in the Canadian wilderness, where you must do what you can to survive wolves, hypothermia, bears, blizzards and all the other dangers that nature throws at you. It’s just you and the elements: you hunt, you forage, you explore to find shelter, and you keep going for as long as you can. The experience can be contemplative and beautiful, and it can also be brutal and pitiless. If that all sounds a bit much, you can always go and shout at dragons in the wintry power fantasy Skyrim instead. Keza MacDonald


Sam Jordison, Rebecca Liu, Keza MacDonald, Skye Sherwin and Jenessa Williams

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