Friday, 1 April 2016

A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale

A Place Called Winter is one of the most heart-rending novels I have read in a long time, all the more poignant for being simply and elegantly written, with a basis in fact. In the early 1900s, Patrick Gale’s great-grandfather left his wife and daughter to farm wheat in Canada. The reasons for his departure and remaining alone on his farm in Saskatchewan for decades afterwards were never explained. Gale has woven a moving and deeply personal story about what might have happened and why.

Harry Cane is a shy, sensitive man of independent means in the early 1900s when he marries and has a daughter. His life seems mapped out for him, revolving around his family. An indiscretion with a male speech therapist reveals a side to himself Harry had never suspected; when his family find out, Harry must leave England, travelling to Canada, alone. He plans to start a farm, buying into a scheme which will give him his own holding if he can make a go of it for three years.

In the period leading up to and following the First World War Harry will face some terrible hurdles, sometimes dogged by the ominous Troels Munk. Troels meets Harry on the boat out, offering him a hand to get established in his new country. But Troels is an unsavoury character with his own private agenda. Harry’s neighbours, Petra and Paul Slaymaker also distrust Troels, but offer Harry friendship and salvation. But even in such a remote town like Winter, the war and the ensuing influenza epidemic will have terrible consequences.

Gale paints a dramatic picture of what might have happened not only to Harry, but other ‘bachelor’ men in the wake of Oscar Wilde’s conviction for gross indecency. It is also a fascinating look at the development of Canada’s frontier, a land of opportunity for settlers, with glimpses of their relationship with the indigenous people dispossessed by the land grab.

A Place Called Winter is a stunning book, well deserving a nomination for a Costa Award in 2015. Patrick Gale has recently been in New Zealand for the Wellington Arts Festival Readers and Writers Week.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: A Place Called Winter

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