Review 1458: Winter

The beginning of Winter was so bizarre that I wasn’t sure I was going to finish it. Sophia is an older woman living in a large home in Cornwall. She has begun to hallucinate a child’s head that floats in the air and interacts with her.

Art, Sophia’s son, has split from his girlfirend, Charlotte, and she is now posting tweets on his Twitter account that are causing problems for him. Art is supposed to take Charlotte to his mother’s house for Christmas. Unable to explain what happened, he hires a girl named Lux to pretend to be Charlotte.

When Art and Lux arrive at Sophia’s house, they find it barely furnished, with no beds in the extra bedrooms and no food in the refrigerator. Sophia seems vague and much too thin. At Lex’s insistence, Art summons his Aunt Iris, even though Iris and Sophia haven’t spoken in years.

As I said, this novel started in such a way that I wasn’t sure I would like it. It is quirky, certainly, but it grew on me. Things that seem inexplicable are explained, in a way. As usual with Smith, there is a strong focus on art and ideas. Smith is always interesting and inventive.

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Day 911: A Place Called Winter

Cover for A Place Called WinterI read A Place Called Winter for my Walter Scott Prize project, the second book I’ve read for the 2016 list. Like one of the other books I read recently for that project, Arctic Summer, it has as a major theme the main character’s homosexuality. However, I found myself feeling much closer to the characters and more interested in the plot of this novel than I did for Arctic Summer.

At the beginning of the novel, Harry Cane is being treated, or rather mistreated, in an asylum in Canada. Shortly thereafter, he is transferred to an experimental center that treats the patients much more humanely. We understand that Harry has committed a crime, but we don’t know what it is. Between short chapters about his life at the center, we learn what brought him there.

The story of Harry’s life begins when his wealthy father dies. His brother Jack is still in school, and Harry undertakes his education and expenses. Harry is a man of no occupation who feels that he would like one, but he doesn’t know what to do about it. He feels vaguely that he would like to work an estate or a farm but thinks he has to be born to it. A shy man with an occasional stammer, he likes reading and horses. Eventually, he marries a shy woman, Winnie, who informs him on their wedding night that she loves someone else. Nevertheless, he cares for his wife and loves his daughter.

An investment recommendation by his brother-in-law takes a large part of Harry’s inheritance, and Harry and his family are forced to move in with his in-laws. He is an innocent-minded person, so it is not until he meets an actor named Browning that he realizes he is homosexual. He begins an affair with Browning, but then disaster strikes. His affair is exposed to his in-laws by a blackmailer and Harry is forced out of the family. Even his brother Jack, whom he loves, is pressured by his wife not to correspond with him.

Now totally alone, Harry emigrates to Canada and ends up in Saskatchewan, which is just being opened to settlement by the arrival of the Grand Trunk Railway. On shipboard, he meets Troels Munck, who finds him a position where he can learn farming and then helps him purchase a homestead. Munck, though, is a bully, and from the moment Harry meets him, we know that relationship will not end well.

link to NetgalleyHarry finds that a farmer’s life suits him. He settles in, works hard, and makes friends. But we know where he is at the beginning of the book, so the tension builds as we find out how he got there.

Although the time spent to get him to Canada, where the book really captured me, seems a little long, by the time he gets there, we know Harry very well. He is a kind and polite person, but he earns our respect when he finds his niche. Eventually, I became deeply involved in his story. It was also interesting in its details of early homesteading and treatment of mental illness.

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