A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale

This book took awhile to catch on for me.  I started it at least three or four times, and thea place called winter beginning didn’t grab me.  Just needed to get through the first twenty pages – and I’m now glad that I read the book.

Harry Cane is a privileged and shy Englishman who marries well, has a child – and then is forced to leave his life of leisure for the prairies of Saskatchewan after having an illicit affair with a man.

On Harry’s ship journey to Canada, he encounters a number of privileged dandies who approach their homesteading futures as a lark in the country.  He also meets the notorious Troels Munck, a deal maker and lecherous soul whose destiny becomes bound up with Harry’s.

Harry, green as he is to farm work, approaches it wisely with foresight.  He spends a year laboring on the farm of Munck’s brother-in-law, and then gets his own quarter section through some under-the-table conniving from Munck.

Through the back-breaking work of making his own home, Harry finds a type of redemption not found in the upper class circles of his previous life.  To be sure, he misses his family sorely.  But the wide open spaces of western Canada and their rhythms of life become his life, far more deeply than his previous experiences.  Harry also finds love of a sort, but the threat of war beyond his small community soon tears at anything he holds dear.

The storyline is not entirely linear, and I think this was a stumbling block for me.  The book begins with Harry in some kind of wretched asylum – apparently he has either committed some type of crime or experienced a horrific act.  He is then transferred into a gentler, albeit experimental facility.

As you keep reading, the institutional chapters, presented almost as flashbacks, are instead more present-day to the time of the book’s ending.

A Place Called Winter is a historical novel that covers many things – the social mores of Edwardian England, homesteading in Canada, World War I, racism, gay and lesbian/gender issues, etc.  I wound up enjoying it very much, and got very emotionally involved with the characters.

As I mentioned, the book began slowly, but keep with it; A Place Called Winter proved to be a rewarding read.  This situation reminds me of another book from twenty years ago that also started out slowly but turned out to be one of my favorite books – Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

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