Book Review of “A Place Called Winter” by Patrick Gale.
After Harry’s father died, leaving him and his brother Jack orphans, Harry finds his inheritance will keep them both far from poverty. With their good education and status, they are good catches to settle down with any moderately well off Edwardian women, so that’s exactly what they do, with two of the Wells sisters. However, when his brother-in-law discovers Harry’s homosexual affair, he insists Harry leave, or risk ruining all their lives and landing Harry in jail for buggery. Harry soon discovers that the government is helping colonize Canada with the offer of land to anyone willing to work there long enough and can not only survive but also make their homestead succeed.
One of the most interesting things about this novel is how gently Gale portrays his protagonist, Harry. Gale notes that he isn’t a big man, which should be a disadvantage. However, his inner strength is what helps him weather the physical difficulties he encounters. This works perfectly with how Gale shows his earlier life as one of being mostly isolated. Even when Harry is with his brother or his wife and daughter, Harry seems to be observing his life from the outside. On the other hand, once Harry allows himself to connect with someone else fully, he is suddenly actively part of the world around him. Watching how Gale builds the character of Harry, showing his growth with such fluidity combined with natural tension is precisely the type of artistry that I’ve come to admire so much in Gale’s writing.
What I mean by this is that Gale’s characters are real, human, honest and flawed to perfection. Yes, they do stupid things, but just as often, they act responsibly. What’s more, his characters are hardly ever predictable, and that’s what makes us read on in anticipation. Of course, Gale pays just as much much attention to his minor characters, as they play off and against each other as they do within Harry’s life. This spills over equally to Gale’s landscapes, which in this area of Canada are wild and harsh as they are picturesque with their rawness of nature. Together, Gale fills a world that is alive and breathing, with both ugliness and beauty, both from within and from without – in a word, splendid!
It seems futile to continue talking about this novel, since I’ll only become more effusive if I do, and that’s terribly boring. In short, I can find fault with absolutely nothing here. Gale’s writing, characters, story and settings all come together to make for a compelling read that I cannot recommend more highly, and it deserves a full five out of five stars!
“A Place Called Winter” by Patrick Gale is available (via these affiliate links) from Amazon, Kobo Books (USA, Canada & Australia), the website eBooks.com, iTunes (iBook or audiobook), The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literacy) as well as from an IndieBound store near you.
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