Thursday, February 4, 2016

Book Review: "A Place Called Winter" by Patrick Gale

Full disclosure: I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review. Many thanks to NetGalley and Grand Central Publishing for making it available.

This was a lovely, beautifully written, poignant book, that reminded me a little bit of John Boyne's The Absolutist in its tone and subject matter, although the former left me more of an emotional wreck than this one did!

Growing up a child of privilege, Harry Cane was shy, ill-at-ease in social situations, and more than happy to blend into the scenery than be noticed. His financial situation left him able to live a life of leisure, and if he could interact with no one but his more gregarious younger brother, Jack. But when Jack meets an outspoken young woman, Harry comes along to meet her sister, and before he knew it, finds himself happily married to a woman whose social discomfort is similar to his own, and they are proud parents of a baby girl.

Despite some financial challenges, life is peaceful for Harry, and he is able to live the life he wants. But when he finds himself drawn into an unlikely affair, it changes him completely—and its discovery threatens to ruin his marriage, his comforts, and even his life. With nowhere else to turn, Harry decides to join the crush of people migrating to the Canadian wilderness in the hopes of settling a homestead there. Life is bleak, and the work is even harder, but he learns that he is far stronger than he ever thought, and can handle adversity better than he imagined.

Living in the harsh landscape brings him face-to-face with a menace both attractive and ruthlessly dangerous, and two relationships which will change his life in similar but different ways. Harry realizes that he is willing to fight for what he believes he deserves, and he is worthy of love. But he must face occasional isolation, harsh elements, the threat of war, even madness.

Patrick Gale is a terrific storyteller. This book captures perfectly the tone and feel of its time in history, its setting, and the conventions of the world in which his characters live. While at first Harry's passivity is a little frustrating, you watch him discover his inner strength and you find yourself rooting for him. A Place Called Winter is loosely based on a mystery within Gale's own family, and that makes what transpires in the book even more aggravating and upsetting.

While I found the book moved a little slower than I would have liked from time to time, and found the continued return of one of the book's villains to be a little improbably after a while, I really enjoyed this book, and found myself very emotionally invested in what happened to the characters. This is the second of Gale's books I've read and he again dazzled me with his writing—this is book of sensitivity, emotion, a little suspense, and a lot of heart.

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