Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Winter Vault

I finally finished Anne Michaels' The Winter Vault last night.  Like her debut novel, Fugitive Pieces, The Winter Vault was slow to start, but her writing is as I remember it - brilliantly lyrical.

There were so many phrases and scenes that I wish I could commit to memory forever but that's never been my skill.  Do you know someone like that?  A someone who remembers specific lines from movies or books and is able to recall them to quote at will in a conversation?  Ya, I'm not that person.

Anyway - one of my favourites in the book is a description of a dining area surrounded by books and the conversations that would take place around the table at mealtime:

After the war, my mother and I moved back to London, said Avery.  We had a tiny flat and our kitchen table - my father's huge wooden worktable where we ate all our meals - was in an alcove, surrounded by four walls of books.  Without getting out of our chairs, we could simply reach behind us and, yes, pluck! the appropriate book off a shelf.  That was my father's idea, so that there would always be active discussions at meals, and so that I or any guest could find a reference in a trice.  My father loved to call out directions from his end of the table like a mad navigator on a small boat: 'A bit more to the right, nine o'clock please, forty-five degrees left...' Over the years, certain thick or oversized volumes became landmarks which we steered: "The grey cover two inches to the right of The Child's New Illustrated Encyclopedia ("new" about forty years previous), below One Thousand and One Wonderful Things; about ten inches above Engines and Power...' And when the book was retrieved successfully from the shelf, my father would let out a sigh, as if just the right unreachable itch had been scratched.

I mean, isn't that fantastic???  I would love to sit at just such a dining table with the possibility of many a lively informed conversation.

I will admit that the back-half of the book was a little frustrating for me because of our heroine Jean's relationship with Lucjan, but after coming to the description of the winter vaults, where the dead wait for burial because the ground is too frozen for the digging of graves, I got the very bittersweet symbolism of their relationship. 

From the cover:

...In 1964, a newly married Canadian couple settles into a Nile River houseboat moored below the towering figures of Abu Simbel.  Avery is one of the engineers responsible for moving the temple above the rapidly rising waters of the Aswan Dam.  At the edge of a world about to be lost foreever, Avery and Jean suffer a tragedy of their own and return to Toronto to begin separate lives.  There, Jean meets Lucjan, a Polish artist whose haunting stories of his shattered childhood in occupied Warsaw touch her profoundly and lead her in time to a way of forgiveness.  The Winter Vault is a novel about how we are able to salvage what we can from the violence of life in our search for a place we can call home.  Vivid, sensuous, compassionate, it reveals the inescapability of the past, the devesation of loss, and the restorative powers of love...

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