Fans of Patrick Gale may be surprised to find that he has written this novel, for A Place Called Winter is historical and set, for the main part, far away from his usual English locations, in the wild, dangerous newly-discovered farmlands of Canada.
From the opening pages, when we are introduced to the lead character; Harry Cane, through to the very last page, I was totally immersed in the story, the characters and the location. I wanted to read the whole story in one sitting, but it took me longer than usual to finish this outstanding and quite breathtaking novel. Why did it take so long? Two reasons; the first was that I actually rationed myself. It is very rare that I say that I don’t want a book to end, but this is one of those rarities, the writing swept me away, the story haunted me. The second reason for my slow reading was that there were times when I just had to put it aside, for despite the tremendous writing and the captivating story, there were times when I found the plot so heartbreaking and so emotionally tiring that I had to give myself a break.
Harry Cane has led a fairly privileged, if uneventful life. The son of a self-made man, he inherited his father’s wealth, and apart from his determination to ensure that his younger, brighter, and more ambitious brother Jack is comfortable, Harry has no life plans of his own. He spends most days reading the newspapers, lunching at his club and taking baths at the local spa. It is down to Jack, and his sociable personality that Harry meets and marries his wife Winnie. Theirs is not a conventional marriage grounded in love, but more of a convenience for both of them. They are, however, happy in their own way and Winnie gives birth to their daughter.
Harry is vulnerable and confused and after a scandal hits the family, he finds himself exiled to Canada, penniless and forced to use his hands to work for the first time in his life.
The opening pages of the novel find Harry as a patient in a psychiatric hospital before being transferred to an experimental community where he becomes a subject of a forward-thinking doctor. When Harry undergoes hypnotic therapy, the reader travels with him and the reasons for his incarceration are revealed.
A Placed Called Winter is emotive and beautiful, Patrick Gale is a genius story teller and he has created one of the most stunning and moving novels that I have read in many many years. His sense of timing, his ability to create a setting that engulfs the reader is a triumph. The story deals with serious issues, with social injustices, with hardship and also with triumph. But this novel is not all hearts and flowers by any means. The reader encounters violence; there are rapes, there is a murder, there is pain and there is suffering. There are also themes of friendship and determination and huge loyalties.
So, I hope that I’ve encouraged people to read this book, I can guarantee that you will not be disappointed. A Place Called Winter is a story to adore and to cherish and to shout about.
A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale
The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer