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Friday, 24 April 2015

A Place Called Winter - Patrick Gale

  • Author: Patrick Gale 
  • Editions: Hardback, Paperback (Sept 2015)
  • Publisher: Tinder Press 
  • Stars: 5/5 
Historical Fiction, LGBT  

In the golden 1900s, Harry Cane, a shy, eligible gentleman of leisure is drawn from a life of quiet routine into courting and marrying Winnie, eldest daughter of the fatherless Wells clan, who are not quite as respectable as they would appear. They settle by the sea and have a daughter and conventional marriage does not seem such a tumultuous change after all. When a chance encounter awakens scandalous desires never acknowledged until now, however, Harry is forced to forsake the land and people he loves for a harsh new life as a homesteader on the newly colonized Canadian prairies. There, in a place called Winter, he will come to find a deep love within an alternative family, a love imperiled by war, madness and an evil man of undeniable magnetism.


A Place Called Winter is a tale of heartbreaking hardship, a book that seems to combine Pride and Prejudice with E.M Forsters’ Maurice. Winter, Saskatchewan, Canada is in fact a real place, which was first settled in 1908. Among these settlers was Patrick Gale’s fictional figure Harry Cane, whose experience is loosely based on Gale’s own great grandfather who was mysteriously banished from the country leaving his wife and young child back in England while he faced the wilderness of Canada alone.  
Nothing could seem more unrealistic, at first than a married man living in England with a young child and private income who should decide to leave it all and sail for a life full of hardship and uncertainty in Canada. However by the time Harry Cane gets on the immigrant ship, Gale has established his character with precise economical strokes. Harry is apt to stammer and is constrained by everything that is expected of him.  What changes his life utterly is the realization that he loves men, in a period where homosexual acts, even in private, were punished by law and social disgrace. Harry meets Mr. Browning and they begin a sexual relationship, which on Harry’s side is a relation of love and passion. Yet when a blackmailer exposes their relationship, Harry is told by his wife’s family to remove himself from his wife, child and country.

Patrick Gale wrote A Place Called Winter in two and a half years and re-traced Harry’s steps. “ I spent three months there, and although Winter is a ghost town now, I had the coordinates for Harry’s farm so I was able to track it down precisely. I found it terribly moving that his acres were still being ploughed.” The novel begins in a Canadian psychiatric hospital, where Harry undergoes hypnotic therapy, revealing the events that led up to that moment. Gale explains that “the challenge was to inhabit homosexual life in a time when there are no words to describe any of the things the character feels or does. It is quite literally a story about the unspeakable.”

The classic story of a man finding himself through labor on his own land is de-railed almost as soon as it begins to take shape. Harry is pursued by an almost nightmarish figure Troels Munck. This virtually fairytale villain has a knack for spotting weakness in others, and therefore making himself essential to them. Above all Troels is a man of superb animal instinct, un-vexed by any ideas of mortality, and has a prowling capability for destruction, as he haunts Harry’s career as a homesteader. And yet through Troels, Harry finds great happiness, and a neighbor whom he comes to love, but also brings horror, death and incarnation.  Critics have highlighted compassion as one of the uniting qualities in Gale’s fiction, but I am still surprised by Harry’s willingness to acknowledge Munck’s brutality. “Munck is probably a psychopath,” says Gale, “but my difficulty with writing a negative character is that, in the course of the book, I come to understand some of their behavior and at least halfway forgive them.”

A Place Called Winter does not resolve itself, or offer a closed ending, but it does offer hope that emotional truth and loyalty to that truth maybe a way forward for Harry. He is an intensely sympathetic character in his struggles. Harry Cane’s tale is one of many, the disappeared who where not wanted by their family or society, and whose stories were long stained with shame. This fascinating novel is their requiem.   

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Us - David Nicholls

  • Author: David Nicholls 
  • Editions: Hardback, Paperback, E-Book, Audio Download,
  • Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton 
  • Stars: 4/5

 Contemporary Literature 

'I was looking forward to us growing old together. Me and you, growing old and dying together.'

'Douglas, who in their right mind would look forward to that?'

Douglas Petersen understands his wife's need to 'rediscover herself' now that their son is leaving home.

He just thought they'd be doing their rediscovering together.

So when Connie announces that she will be leaving, too, he resolves to make their last family holiday into the trip of a lifetime: one that will draw the three of them closer, and win the respect of his son. One that will make Connie fall in love with him all over again.

The hotels are booked, the tickets bought, the itinerary planned and printed.

What could possibly go wrong?


What a fantastic tale. At first I found this novel difficult to get into as I found the characters unreliable however I pursued. This is a story of a marriage which is in trouble and beautifully narrated by the husband, Douglas. He is run by logic and science but is married to Connie who is free spirited to the extreme. these two could not be more different. They have a 17 year old son who is very much like his mother and has distain for anything conventional including his father. but when Connie announces that she thinks their marriage has run its course and she is thinking about leaving him. However Douglas insists that they carry on with the plan of the family holiday inter-railing across Europe. throughout the holiday Douglas tries to win his wife and son back. 

The story of their trip is woven brilliantly with the backstory of how Connie and Douglas met and their life together. Nicholls has carefully stitched the tapestry of married life and the pit falls it contains. 
At first I was apprehensive about this novel and found it difficult to relate to Douglas and Connie's life, However I am so glad that I pursued as Douglas' narrative is humorous, self-depricating and sometimes heartbreaking. The relationship he has with his son is smoothing everyone can understand I have a younger brother and I can see the dynamics between my father and his son. 

4 good stars and a book that is highly recommended

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Kirith Kirin - Jim Grimsley

Author: Jim Grimsley 

Editions: Out Of Print, E-Book

Publisher: Meisha Merlin Publishing 

Stars: 5/5

Classic Fantasy/ High Fantasy  

Kirith Kirin is like no other fantasy that you have ever read. Jim Grimsley has created a fantasy that could have come right from our world where power and greed can tempt, and sometimes conquer, even the most rightist person and where knowing who your friends and enemies are can be very difficult if not impossible. Yet it is not our world. For in Kirith Kirin's world magic is real, immortals walk the land, and people are sometimes the playthings for the dark arts. The Blue Queen, upon resuming the throne while King Kirith Kirin's eternality is renewed in the Arthen forest, has partnered with a magician of the dark arts. No longer does she need to leave the throne to renew her eternal nature. Swayed by promises of the dark magician, she has claimed the throne forever and is extending her influence to the far corners of the world. Malleable grey clouds, sidewinding wind, and intelligent lightning bolts made the trip across the vast Girdle nearly impossible. Out of nowhere, the Blue Queen's Patrols made haste to kill the boy and the warrior before they could safely reach the deep forest of Arthen. Riding upon two magnificent stallions, one a royal Prince out of Queen Mnemarra, Jessex and his uncle Sivisal reached Arthen despite a deadly storm that reeked of magic. Thus begins Jessex's new life as he enters Arthen and moves into the royal court of Kirith Kirin.


Jim Grimsley does not fast forward any event in this incredible high fantasy novel. Grimsley is not a fantasy writer, he usually writes realistic fiction and stage plays. He is well known for his book Dream Boy. So it seems unfair and almost criminal that he should sweep in a write one of the best fantasy novels I have ever read. Kirith Kirin tells us a tale about a young Farmboy who becomes the most powerful wizard in the world whose destiny is to restore Kirith Kirin place as King, after the rule of the Blue Queen. Jessex is a marvellous narrator, wry and gentle and unexpectedly funny. Kirith Kirin is adorable too, even if everyone tends to treat him more like an errant schoolboy than an immortal king. The descriptive passages are atmospheric and gorgeous, and bring his marvellously vast and detailed world to life. 

But where Grimsley really shines is in the treatment of the relationship between Jessex and Kirith Kirin; this is one of the very, very few books that manages to keep it just as fascinating after reading as it was before.  Their story is a painful one, which will keep you at the edge of your seat. I and am glad that I took my time in consuming this beautiful tale, so that I could appriciate the world building that Jim Grimsley has painstakingly thought about.cannot recommend it enough. I am so glad that I went to the great length of purchasing this book in paperback, which is now out of print. 

I feel that I need to re-read this novel as the world that Grimsley creates is complex and I would recommend people to read the glossary before starting the novel this really helped me understand the book on a deeper level.