Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

A Place Called Winter

Marvellous to come across an unputdownable novel for the dog end days of the year. I was so engrossed in A PLACE CALLED WINTER by Patrick Gale, published in 2015, I could not stop reading it and did not want it to finish.  

Harry Kane has followed tradition at every step, until an illicit affair forces him to abandon the golden suburbs of Edwardian England and travel to the town of Winter in the newly colonised Canadian prairies.
There, isolated in a beautiful but harsh landscape, Harry embarks on an extraordinary journey, not only of physical hardship, but also of acute self-discovery
“Harry Cane is one of many, the disappeared who were not wanted by their families or their societies and whose stories were long shrouded with shame. This fascinating novel is their elegy” – The Guardian.
We meet Harry as a shy, stammering young man in Edwardian London, living a decent but rather idle life cushioned by his father’s fortune. He enters a somewhat platonic marriage and becomes a father, but his true feelings are unleashed when he falls in love with another man. However, his secret is discovered and Harry is given an ultimatum by his wife’s family. Under threat of disgrace and a sentence of hard labour, he finds himself en route to Canada to make a new life as a settler on a remote Saskatchewan prairie. He befriends his neighbours, a brother and sister who both go on to play important roles in his future, but as the threat of war reaches this remote outpost of the Empire, Harry’s life takes another dark turn.

It is really a western, complete with a terrifying unpredictable villain, and a hero forced to rely on his own resources in a wide open landscape, and it is also a bittersweet, passionate love story, and perfectly captures that Edwardian England (including Gaiety Girls including the young Gladys Cooper) before the Great War changed it all. The Great War also influences and changes the fortunes of our characters here, as we see the Canadian wild west being colonised and changed by the progress of the railways and the new settlers. A fascinating period brilliantly brought to life by Gale. Harry Cane was in fact a real person, Gale's great-grandfather and he pieces his story and invents where necessary to fill in the blanks, from materials left by his grandmother. 
Other characters like Paul and Petra, and Winnie, the wife he left behind, who loved another, are perfectly realised too, as is life in that harsh climate, we also get all-male dances in those early settlements with few women, and the fascinating Cree indians too. The real Harry returned briefly to England in the 1950s, before returning to Canada to die. But he found his happiness at least in that place called Winter.  Left; the real Harry Cane. 

Patrick Gale is a fascinating British author, gay and prolific. I like his collection of short stories DANGEROUS PLEASURES, which he signed for me when we had a very pleasant conversation at a book signing in the late 90s. Good to see he is still writing marvellous novels like A PLACE CALLED WINTER

No comments:

Post a Comment