Patrick Gale has a substantial backlist, and several of his books have been bestsellers – Notes From an Exhibition, The Whole Day Through, and A Perfectly Good Man the most recent. A Place Called Winter is his latest, and is his first full length novel that delves into the realm of historical fiction.
I can’t deny that I have rather a large bias when it comes to Patrick Gale. I stumbled upon a copy of Rough Music as a teenager, and promptly read everything else by him. Somehow, his characters all felt like people I knew well, and the fact that he wrote about interesting, layered characters, some of whom happened to be gay, some did not, helped me immeasurably as a confused teenager, longing for relatable characters in books.
So, it was with 90% trepidation and 10% excitement that I received Patrick Gale’s latest novel, A Place Called Winter. What if I hated it? What if I didn’t like the historical setting? Would I be able to write a negative review? Thankfully none of those fears were realised. In fact, I may have just found my new favourite Patrick Gale novel…
A Place called Winter is the story of Harry Cane, a young man in Edwardian England. Left with a sizeable inheritance, Harry follows tradition, marrying and raising a young child. A passionate affair, however, forces Harry into exile, separated from all that he knows, and forced to try his hand as a farmer in the plains of Canada.
In Canada he finds love and acceptance, although the fragile happiness is soon threatened by the return of an old enemy, war, and madness.
Gale is best known for his contemporary fiction, and aside from the first third of The Facts of Life, his novels have chiefly been set in the present day. With A Place Called Winter, the setting and period are meticulously described, with a strong cast of characters. So strong in fact, that whilst I liked Harry Cane the most, I longed to read more about many of the others – Ursula, Browning, and Paul and Petra in particular.
For those who enjoy contemporary fiction, don’t worry – these characters could just as easily exist today. In fact, it’s particularly galling to note that whilst many things have changed since the period in which this book was set, homosexuality and gender disorders are still regarded as mental illnesses by many.
Harry’s story is one that will stand the test of time – much like this book, which I plan to reread and reread. Beautiful writing, gripping characters, and a final chapter that made me weep.
I’d encourage anybody and everybody to pick this up. Just like the characters, I imagine Winter will remain with me for a very long time.
A huge amount of thanks to Tinder Press for the copy.
It may not surprise you that I’m recommending something else by Patrick Gale, but Notes From an Exhibition is an excellent read. Whilst very different in terms of tone and setting to A Place Called Winter, both are detailed studies in the psychology of their characters, and both are gripping reads.