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Spell Of Winter Paperback – Dec 1 1996


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin UK; New edition edition (Dec 1 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140248811
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140248814
  • Product Dimensions: 19.4 x 12.8 x 2.4 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 240 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #2,310,607 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)


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First Sentence
It is winter in the house. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Excerpt | Back Cover
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 8 2002
Format: Paperback
"I saw an arm fall off a man once." So begins Helen Dunmore's beautiful novel, "A Spell of Winter." The words above are spoken by Kate, an Irish maid in a pre-World War I English household that consists of eight year old Catherine, her ten year old brother, Rob, their tutor and grandfather. After making her startling announcement, Kate then relates a rather gruesome story that happened in the Dublin house of her grandmother many years ago, when Kate, herself, was a child.
Although the above is certainly an engrossing way to open a novel, it really doen't have anything to do with the story that follows, except for introducing Catherine Allen, who, as a grown woman, will be our narrator through his dark and Gothic tale.
As a passionate, independent woman who harbors far more than her share of both secrets and pain, Catherine Allen looks much as we would expect her to look, possessing dark, unruly hair and dark eyes that unnerve even the most strong-willed.
Catherine's sharer-of-secrets and co-conspirtor is her brother, Rob, who seems, even at his young age, to be something of a dandy and, perhaps, more affected by the strange goings-on at the decaying estate the two call home than is Catherine.
If Rob and Cathy aren't your typical children, even in a drafy English country manor house, it might have something to do with the fact that their parents are not your typical parents. Their mother (who was perhaps the wisest of them all, though definitely not the most kind-hearted), bolted from the strangeness of it all to live a bohemian life in the south of France. Their father made his escape through insanity and died (under suspicious circumstances) in an asylum ironicaly called, the Sancturary.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on Jan. 27 2002
Format: Paperback
"A Spell of Winter" is an old-fashioned novel, where once again the flow of narration charms us in an instant, and we are carried off into the nineteenth century English countryside, and enter the small world where Catherine's life undergoes a transformation. It's a small world, for the story evolves around the house, a family mansion of the Allens, a dysfunctional family we grow to love as pages turn around and about. The novel is a pleasure to read, bu all accounts. beginning with an old-style clear typeface, beautiful dust jacket, well-bound hardcover, and ending with the characters, the frozen setting and dusty mysterious atmosphere of the storyline. Helen Dunmore is virtually unknown in America, perhaps because only recently the audience had the chance to discover her works. I am happy that I found A Spell of Winter sue to seemingly random book search patterns I have. Having read thousands of books, I have developed a sort of intuition which whispers in my ear: that's the one! I have bought Helen Dunmore's novel trusting my intuition, and having just finished it, I would like to make a heartfelt recommendation for fellow old-fashioned bookworms like yours truly. The novel is engaging, never dull, the writing style is unique, impossiblt to compare with anyone else's, the narration is soft, dreamilke, and even very topics which others would have found difficult, if not impossible to write about, were touched here with infinite gentleness, like a womanly barely audible whisper, a story told intimately, reserved for your ears only, in confidence of an embrace, in a small room of an old house lit only by a weak yet cheerful candle.Read more ›
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 21 reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Haunting, enveloping, powerful prose Feb. 2 2004
By "cathst" - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Siblings Rob and Catherine live in the big old house with their cold grandfather after their mother abandoned them and their father left to live in a mental institution. Left alone to wonder about the family secrets that seem to be hiding everywhere, they turn to each other for the love and affection they can't find elsewhere.
This is an absolutely haunting book. The writing was just about as beautiful and powerful as any I've encountered. Dunmore created such a strong sense of place that was so enveloping that I had to take breaks from reading just to warm up and bring myself back to my life, because I felt like if I spent too much time there in the world of the book, I'd be trapped and never make it out. I'm excited to read more by this author.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Think Bronte, not Joanna Trollope March 10 2002
By Alison Bunch - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Rarely, does one come across a gothic novel written by a modern novelist that is not totally insipid. Helen Dunmore's "A Spell of Winter" is literature and it is beautiful. The writing strikes a fine poetic balance - profoundly evocative without being overly dense or distracting from the story she unwinds. You are, quite simply, there. You smell, taste and feel everything. And, the scenery...ah, the scenes, the odd, strange and staggeringly beautiful scenes you find yourself experiencing (Dunmore is a master of place) - ones you won't forget after you close the book. It is all very confusing and exciting and exquistedly sad. The characters, particularly the female ones, are well-realized and deeply complex (just as people truly are in a life fully-lived). Dunmore has obviously, like many of us, been long haunted by Cathy and Heathcliff. Admittedly, I had a few problems with the novel's conclusion. Toward the end, I found many of the actions of the characters became totally, well, uncharacteristic and seemed manipulated to satisfy to the novel's plot, or lack thereof, toward the ending. I found this highly disappointing since I was so involved with the characters by that point. Much of the novel's trembling intensity seems to just peter out. Still, there did exist that "trembling intensity" and finding that anywhere in a novel is a gift not lightly dismissed.
17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Promising start but loses steam midway May 1 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
The blurb at the back of Helen Dunmore's Orange Prize winning novel, "A Spell of Winter" suggested a haunting gothic-styled thriller built around forbidden passions and family secrets. For a good two-thirds of the novel, Dunmore kept up the suspense with a litter of teases and dark hints which unfortunately remained unresolved and a mystery even at the end. You could have forgiven her deliberate sense of obscurity and vagueness had she gone for a less open ended denouement, but the last third of the novel was a major let down for me. I felt almost cheated after a such a promising start. Sure, Dunmore writes exquisitely. Her prose is smooth and fluent and a joy to read. Pity she let the suspense and momentum peter out midway. In my humble opinion, not up to the standards I was expecting from a prize winner. But Dunmore is an excellent writer. Perhaps the next book I read of hers will be more fulfulling.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Beautifully Written, but a Little Over-the-Top April 8 2002
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
"I saw an arm fall off a man once." So begins Helen Dunmore's beautiful novel, "A Spell of Winter." The words above are spoken by Kate, an Irish maid in a pre-World War I English household that consists of eight year old Catherine, her ten year old brother, Rob, their tutor and grandfather. After making her startling announcement, Kate then relates a rather gruesome story that happened in the Dublin house of her grandmother many years ago, when Kate, herself, was a child.
Although the above is certainly an engrossing way to open a novel, it really doen't have anything to do with the story that follows, except for introducing Catherine Allen, who, as a grown woman, will be our narrator through his dark and Gothic tale.
As a passionate, independent woman who harbors far more than her share of both secrets and pain, Catherine Allen looks much as we would expect her to look, possessing dark, unruly hair and dark eyes that unnerve even the most strong-willed.
Catherine's sharer-of-secrets and co-conspirtor is her brother, Rob, who seems, even at his young age, to be something of a dandy and, perhaps, more affected by the strange goings-on at the decaying estate the two call home than is Catherine.
If Rob and Cathy aren't your typical children, even in a drafy English country manor house, it might have something to do with the fact that their parents are not your typical parents. Their mother (who was perhaps the wisest of them all, though definitely not the most kind-hearted), bolted from the strangeness of it all to live a bohemian life in the south of France. Their father made his escape through insanity and died (under suspicious circumstances) in an asylum ironicaly called, the Sancturary.
If Rob and Cathy have apparently learned much from their parents, though and they harbor many dark secrets of their own. For most of us, these secrets heat up the storyline while giving us the shivers. Although I found this book both haunting and eerie, I think some readers might find the storyline a bit too melodramatic and over-the-top.
While I thought Catherine was a good narrator, her often heartless approach to things that would have broken my heart made me dislike her and, as a consequence, I lost quite a bit of sympathy for her. Dunmore's writing is so life-like and so riveting, that we can't help but be pulled in when Catherine describes scenes that, at their mildest, could only be described as "harrowing."
The very best thing about this novel though, is not the characters or the plot, it is Dunmore's beautiful prose and her wonderful sense of place. She certainly has a way with description; I could have enjoyed this book for the gorgeous prose alone, though I doubt that that would be enough to please most readers.
While the book does have a tendency to slip into melodrama at times, as far as the plot is concerned, it is really still believable. By the time we reach the last third of the novel, most of the characters are "gone," and only Catherine remains. I didn't care for this part of the novel quite as much as the preceding pages. While the first two-thirds of the book had a dusty, claustrophobic feel, just perfect for the subject matter, the last third seemed more open, more expansive...and far less moody.
The close of the novel is something of a twist, and a modern one at that. Personally, I didn't care for it but I know other readers may feel differently. It wasn't bad, I simply didn't find it at all believable.
If you liked "Wuthering Heights" and the characters of Catherine and Heathcliff, you will probably enjoy "A Spell of Winter." It has the same moody, claustrophobic feel (at least through most of the story) and the same unrelenting darkness. If you simply enjoy a good, old-fashioned tale, complete with lush settings written in beautiful and lyrical prose, you would also probably enjoy this book. If, however, you require stark realism and total believability, better skip this one.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Comparisons to Brontes are valid Oct. 27 2002
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
A Gothic novel that is as dark and atmospheric to the classics it has been compared to. Dunmore's writing it lush and captivating, and this is a total page-turner. Yet, being a devoted fan, I know that she has been better in other works....

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