Grand Central Publishing, March 26, 2016.
Patrick Gale’s writing is stunning as always in this timely historical novel about a man struggling with his sexual orientation. Harry Cane’s story starts in early 20th century England – he is living a quiet, unassuming life with his wife Winnie and their young daughter. Harry believes that he is happy, until a chance encounter with another man awakens a passion that he didn’t know was missing from his life. He is blissful in his double life, balancing romantic love with familial duty – until Winnie’s brother catches Harry at his lover’s home, and gives him the option to quietly leave the country.
For the sake of respectability, Harry is forced to leave his family behind. He travels by ship to Canada and begins to build himself a life in the newly colonized prairies. The environment is harsh, but there are good, strong people there, and Harry learns that he is capable of more than he ever realized. A chance meeting with a certain man on the ship leads Harry to an available homestead beside the land of a brother and sister, and he becomes increasingly involved with both siblings.
The novel jumps around from Harry’s time in a mental asylum, then back to his original settlement in the prairies, until the two timelines finally collide. In retrospect, I do like the structure of the novel, but at the time, it was somewhat hard to follow, and I questioned the necessity of the sections set in the asylum – although, in the end, it all makes sense. The historical setting is atmospheric, and it felt solid and real. The settlers’ interactions with the Cree people were thoughtful and well-written also.
A Place Called Winter moves at a slow, meandering pace, much like its protagonist Harry, although it does accelerate towards the ending. Harry finds love – both platonic and romantic – in unexpected ways, and it is intensely real. My only complaint is the emotional distance of the characters, as I found it difficult to get into their heads. However, Harry does eventually find his own inner strength, in his willingness to sacrifice everything for his new makeshift family, instead of giving up easily like he did before. Harry’s experience is one of redemption, and this novel shows us that it is always possible to start over, with a second chance at living a life that makes us happy.
I received this novel from Grand Central Publishing and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.