Published 24 March 2015 by Tinder Press
In the golden 1900s, Harry Cane, a shy, eligible gentleman of leisure is drawn from a life of quiet routine into marrying Winnie, eldest daughter of the fatherless Wells clan, who are not quite as respectable as they would appear.
Winnie and Harry settle by the sea and have a daughter; conventional marriage does not seem such a tumultuous change after all. When a chance encounter awakens unacknowledged desires, however, Harry is forced to forsake the home 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 imperilled by war, madness and a man of undeniable magnetism.
In a dramatic departure from anything he has written before, Patrick Gale boldly projects his own fears and loves to tell the dramatic story of an Edwardian innocent’s gradual understanding of his own nature. Based on the real life mystery of the author’s own great-grandfather, and drawing on the understanding of psychology and relationships which infused Rough Music and Notes from an Exhibition, A Place Called Winter charts the gathering of wisdom of a kind suppressed in most family histories.
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We first meet Harry Cane as a patient in a Canadian asylum being subjected to a rather brutal sounding bath treatment. Immediately my interest was piqued, what had he done to end up in such a place? Through the following chapters going back and forth in time, we find out.
The story is set in the early 20th century. Harry Cane and his brother Jack, have a privileged life due to their father’s successful horse drawn omnibus business. However their early life was not a very happy one and women are somewhat of a mystery to Harry. Whereas Jack is confident and outgoing, Harry is a shy, gentle man and unworldly, which makes him vulnerable to those wishing to take advantage.
Over time, Harry marries and has a child. His married life has not been without its problems but generally life is good and uneventful until one unthinking act suddenly brings his life crashing around him. He is forced to leave his wife and child behind and after seeing a poster announcing ‘Canadian Emigration’, makes his way to Canada for a new life as a homesteader; farming in the remote lands of the Canadian prairies – eventually settling in a remote town called ‘Winter’.
As much as I enjoyed the backstory, it is from here on that Harry really comes into his own for me. The strangeness of this whole new world is such a marked difference to the privileged life that he was used to. He is not used to hard physical work and the challenges he faces and the hardships and deprivation of his new life are made clear, However there is no self pity – Harry just accepts and gets on with what is needed. There is a wonderful sense of place and the land and its people are so vividly described that you can’t help but be totally pulled into the story.
Harry finds his own strength of character being tested to the extreme – some events make for heartbreaking reading. The characters that Harry meets in his new life will each have a hand in forming the person that he will become. There are those that are treacherous with evil intentions, whilst others enrich his life and bring him happiness – as well as tragedy.
I loved this book and I couldn’t help but care deeply for Harry. He was a good man at heart and deserved so much more than the life he had. It’s sobering to think that in modern times, Harry’s life could have been quite different.
Patrick Gale has created a stunning novel of relationships and loss but also of the ability to endure and triumph. My review can’t possibly do the book justice and I am trying not to give away too much of the story as it is one that you need to discover for yourself. It was only after reading interviews given by the author did I realise that the story is based, in part, on his own family history.
The writing was absolutely beautiful – this is just one example of the prose that stood out for me “He did not consciously harden his heart but he loved with hands metaphorically behind his back”.
I have no hesitation in giving this 5 stars. I am certain it will be one of my top books of the year.
My thanks to Georgina of Headline for the advance reading copy.
About the author:
Patrick Gale was born on the Isle of Wight in 1962. He spent his infancy at Wandsworth Prison, which his father governed, then grew up in Winchester. He now lives on a farm near Land’s End. He’s a passionate gardener, cook, and cellist and chairs the North Cornwall Book Festival each October. His sixteen novels include A Perfectly Good Man and Notes From an Exhibition – both of which were Richard and Judy Bookclub selections, The Whole Day Through and Rough Music. His latest, A Place Called Winter, draws intriguingly on his family history.