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A Spell Of Winter (2001)

A Spell of Winter (2001)

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3.54 of 5 Votes: 2
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0871137828 (ISBN13: 9780871137821)

About book A Spell Of Winter (2001)

Well, this book wasn't what I expected at all. I picked it because I saw it had won the Orange award, and went into it not knowing much else about it. The cover made me think I was in for a romance novel with heaving bosoms and complicated schemes to bring about unexpected and perhaps diasapproved but fortuitous marriage proposals. However, the beginning quickly disabused me of those notions, as it started with a description of a decaying body being carried clumsily down stairs, and moved on to an epilogue with the protagonist sitting naked inside a smelly old wool coat, crouched in front of a fire inside a deserted and apparently decrepit house in the English countryside, talking about how much she loves to be apart from the rest of mankind and wishes it were always winter. I don't want to give too much away, so I'll stick to the basics here: Catherine and Rob are a sister and brother pair who live in England at the beginning of the twentieth century in a house that is apparently genteel but starting to fall apart due to lack of family funds. They are being raised by their Grandfather and an Irish maid who is about a decade their elder, Kate. Although it is not immediately apparent why, both of their parents are not at home with them, and more than a whiff of scandal and whispers of the moral failures of their family hang over the household.The heart of the story takes place while the kids are in their late teens and trying to figure out what they want to do with their futures, which of course does include courting and social niceties, you know, like I originally expected. Except that nothing is simple with these people. In a house filled with ancestral secrets, leaving the children with a feeling of being tainted, they quickly begin to amass even more skeletons in the familial closet.Themes included in the novel that some people might find distasteful: incest, abortion, insanity, and murder, and that's really just glossing over the potentially gut-wrenching details.It is easy for me to see why this novel won a prize. You have to be willing to go with the story and immerse yourself in it, but, if you do, the writing is rich and rewarding. Plot-wise, though, even having bought into the basic premise of the novel, some parts really didn't come together for me. Some of the choices the characters made seemed, well, out of character and really left me scratching my head. And the ending was simultaneously too convenient and ambiguous for my taste, and totally out of place compared to the rest of the novel. Still, I overall would recommend it, assuming none of the distasteful topics I mentioned above are just not a place you feel like going right now.

This book was such a curate's egg. The writing was lovely, almost tactile. The very first scene in the book stood out right in front of me as I read it, I imagined it all candlelight and winter shadows. Most of the characters are well written and I like the touch of the unreliable narrator that Cathy has. However, there is little of the promised gothic in this apart from that. Rob is strangely featureless and bland, despite his importance in the story. The second half of the book is where the story derails. Characters return, weakening the impact of their departure; others permeate the pages but remain indistinct even when brought back into focus. The ending in particular is weak and does not tie in with the course of the story in my opinion. I think I'd have rather read about Harry and Liza Callan. I initially picked up this book because of my interest in the period of history in which it is set but there was very little to tie it to the world outside, even WWI passes through the insularity of the story and the characters with only a ghost of an impact. Still, that might be an intended feature of a story that seems to explore the different shades of isolation.Should the author take to writing poetry, though, I think I should like to read it very much.

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This novel, as befits a book often described as 'Gothic', is a disturbing read. Rob and his younger sister, the narrator Cathy, have been abandoned to life in their country house firstly by their mother, who simply went away, and by their father, who became institutionalised. They are in the care of their grandfather, but actually cared for by Kate, their maid, and only friend. The ghastly Miss Gallagher would like to care for Cathy, but Cathy does not care for her. Rob and Cathy, finally, only have each other. I don't want to do a spoiler, so let's leave it there.Helen Dunmore is mistress of the perfect description. Whether it's a winter garden, a scratchy outdoor coat, a fit of vomiting, or a cool appraisal of a fellow guest at a dance, Dunmore cam mnake you live the moment, feel the sensation. For this alone the book is worth reading. It's an involving and disquieting tale. In the end, I found the concluding chapter or so rushed and unconvincing, compared with the careful narration that had gone previously. But that's no reason not to read the book. Helen Dunmore's always worth it

Dunmore is one of those authors I’ve been hearing good things about for years but hadn’t got round to reading, despite her being local and exactly suited to my taste. Which perhaps gives away what I feel about this book!The story is narrated by Cathy and in a slightly dreamlike nonlinear fashion she tells us how she went from happy child playing endlessly with her brother Rob, to depressed 20-something seemingly living alone in a big old house that’s falling apart. The setting is the early 20th century (in fact, the First World War acts as a big dividing line in the narrative) and a country house estate owned by Cathy’s grandfather. The facts of her life come together slowly, so although we learn early on that her grandfather, parents and brother are no longer around, the when and why take some time to be revealed. And because she, especially at first, jumps around in time, sometimes I missed whopping great clues to something that happened later and it was only with hindsight I realised I should have seen it coming.See my full review at:
—Nose in a book (Kate)

Originally, I was drawn into Dunmore's writing style as it creates definite ambiance - think Jane Eyre. Then all of a sudden the story turns into VC Andrews meets romance pulp fiction. I checked myself, wondering if it was the taboo of incest that was causing my distress. Definitely not - it was the incongruity of this plot twist with the style. I mean, you feel like you're reading a tale written during the time period (pre-WWI), but if that were the case, you wouldn't get details on an illicit

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