Book Review: A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale

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Gale leaves his usual Cornwall for Canada in his latest novel to tell the story of Harry Kane, Gale’s great grandfather. Harry’s emigration, disappearing without reason to Canada inspired this story. Gale wondered what caused him to leave the relative affluence of southern England, a wife and child, to settle in the Canadian wilderness. A Place Called Winter gives the imagined account, flush with accurate historical context.

Gale is a master story-teller, and he does not spare Harry Kane any ease of story that a distant relative might inspire. A Place Called Winter is, at its heart, a love story, played out under bruising and harsh cultural and physical landscapes. Gale’s prose is utterly beautiful making it a deeply affecting read, both moving and devastating. The fate of Harry Kane stayed with me long after I had finished the book, and made me curious to delve into my own family history. Gale conjures up a great sense of isolation in Harry, as mirrored in the bleak Canadian wilderness. Harry Kane was a pioneer, an early homesteader, and the harshness of life comes through the pages of the book with a chill wind.

Harry’s story is told in different phases, beginning in a mental institution, so the reader knows that something has not gone well for Harry. Harry’s story evolves in different locations. The uptight Edwardian society – where he marries Winnie and fathers a child, the daughter that he is to abandon when Harry embarks on a homosexual relationship and is banished by the family to Canada. En route to Canada, Harry is befriended by a monster in the form of Troels Munck, who comes to save and torture him throughout his life. It is finally in Winter that Harry finds love, and security, to have it savaged at the hands of the vile Troels Munck. Gale creates characters that seem to walk off the page and appear before you.

Gale takes us on Harry’s journey of love, loss, through the land of opportunity, a spell in a mental institution, and ultimately to the place where Harry ends his life. A Place Called Winter is an outstanding novel by one of Britain’s finest story tellers. It is crying out to be made in to a film.

I highly recommend it.

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