A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale

A Place Called Winter There really is a place called Winter; it’s in Saskatchewan, Canada, and at the time when Patrick Gale’s novel is set, it’s a small, newly-established settlement just off the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway. Winter is home to the fictional Harry Cane, a character based on the author’s own great-grandfather, but how did such a quiet, gentle and seemingly conventional Englishman end up in so harsh and remote a place? A Place Called Winter is Harry’s story, explaining exactly what the circumstances were which brought him to Canada, and what happened to him after he arrived there.

At the beginning of the novel, Harry is a shy, stammering young man living in Edwardian London. Doing what is expected of him, he gets married, and although he has no real love or passion for his wife, it’s not an unhappy marriage and they have a child together. Things start to go wrong for Harry when he falls in love with a man and is forced to leave the country to escape the resulting scandal. Given the opportunity to farm some land in Canada, Harry begins to build a new life for himself alone in a place called Winter.

Harry’s experiences in Canada are a mixture of good and bad. The challenging environment in which he finds himself requires skills he doesn’t possess and must learn quickly if he is to survive in the wilderness. With the help of some new friends, Harry starts to grow in strength and knowledge, but not everyone he meets is quite so pleasant and the behaviour of the villainous Troels Munck poses an obstacle which must be overcome before he has a chance of finding true happiness.

I found this a very moving and poignant novel, as well as a beautifully written one. I couldn’t help comparing it to Damon Galgut’s Arctic Summer which I had read just a few weeks earlier. The two books have some similar themes, most notably a man trying to come to terms with his sexuality within the confines of early 20th century society, but I thought this novel had a warmth which the other lacked; Gale really engaged my emotions and made me care about his characters in a way that Galgut didn’t.

A Place Called Winter is my first book read from this year’s Walter Scott Prize shortlist and I hope the others on the list will be as good as this one. I haven’t read any of Patrick Gale’s other novels and I understand that he doesn’t usually write historical fiction, but I was very impressed with his writing and would be interested in trying more of his work.

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21 thoughts on “A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale

  1. SueB says:

    This was one of my best reads of 2015. My book group loved one of his earlier novels. For me he writes with the same empathy as Colm Toibin.

  2. Suzan says:

    I was planning on reading all books nominated for the Walter Scott Prize this year, but due to time restrictions I had to skip this shortlist this year.
    Your review of this novel has made me regret my decision, as A Place Called Winter sounds right up my alley. I suppose I’ll have to read this one anyway! Thanks for your great review 🙂

    • Helen says:

      I hope you’ll still have time to read A Place Called Winter. I’ve challenged myself to read all of the books shortlisted for the Walter Scott Prize since the prize began in 2010 – I’m working through them very slowly but have really enjoyed most of them so far.

  3. whatmeread says:

    I just spotted your review! I also read this recently and plan to review it in a few weeks. I am just on my iPad right now, so I’ll post a link to your review tomorrow. Nice review. I had very similar reactions.

  4. Jo says:

    A lovely review. This is his first foray into historical fiction, which having read his other books I was very conscious of. It was fascinating and the sexuality theme became very secondary for me compared to the way they had to survive out there. I do hope you get chance to read some of his other work.

  5. Alex says:

    I’ve had Notes from an Exhibition on the TBR for a while now because I really love to read about artists and Cornwall is always a great location.

  6. BookerTalk says:

    This was a book club read from last year and our discussion was enhanced because one member had been tomWinter and had some kind of connection with the real life family of Harry.

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