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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: 13.1 x 2.2 x 19.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 240 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #2,491,462 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Unsettling love and stifled horror create and then destroy the claustrophobic world of this lush, literary gothic set in turn-of-the-century England. Catherine and Rob Allen, siblings two years apart, grow up in a world of shameful secrets. Their mother creates a public outcry, abandoning her family for a bohemian life on the Continent. Their father, whose mental state always has been slightly precarious, is committed to an asylum in the country. The children are sealed off with their grandfather in a crumbling country estate accompanied by their sturdy and well-loved servant, Kate, and the predatory tutor, Miss Gallagher. In true gothic fashion, terror, violence and eroticism collect beneath every dark surface. Against this strange and secretive backdrop, Cathy and Rob develop a closeness so fierce that it eventually threatens to smother them both. Kate makes the first crack in their hermetically sealed world, which World War I eventually bursts wide open. With Kate's departure for Canada and Rob's for the front, destitute times at home force Cathy into self-reliance. It's only after she's redeemed by hardship that she's given a second chance to be redeemed by love. Though the setting is classic gothic, the novel is peculiarly modern with its precise, unforgiving depictions of childhood and madness, its dark sensuality and surprising, artful use of metaphor. The intensity and darkness of the world Dunmore creates teeters between gripping and overwrought; some may find the story heavy-handed. Still, Dunmore's keen, close writing is deserving of Britain's prestigious Orange Prize, which the novel won when it was first published in the U.K. in 1995, and most will enjoy the book as a finely crafted, if disturbing, literary page-turner. (Feb.)Forecast: Dunmore's stock has been steadily rising with the publication in the U.S. of her last three novels (Your Blue-Eyed Boy; Talking to the Dead; With Your Crooked Heart); demand for this earlier, career-establishing work should be strong.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

In the years before World War I, Cathy, the narrator, and her brother grow up on their grandfather's impoverished English estate. Their mother abandoned them when they were small, and their father dies after being institutionalized. Except for the ministrations of the maid, Kate, and the interference of the repulsive governess, they are left on their own. It seems inevitable when their closeness takes an unnatural and destructive turn. A wealthy neighbor is refurbishing a nearby estate and offers Cathy glimpses of a larger world, but she cannot bring herself to respond. In the meantime, there are threats to her hermetic existence--the governess' intrusions become intolerable; first Kate and her brother, Rob, decide to leave. And finally the war comes, taking most of the neighboring men with it, so that Cathy is left with her ailing grandfather to scratch out an existence on the farm. It's only when the war ends and she is alone that she is ready to break away. With a handful of characters and rich, ripe prose, Dunmore creates a compelling tale of obsession. Mary Ellen Quinn
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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First Sentence
It is winter in the house. Read the first page
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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: 22 reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Haunting, enveloping, powerful prose Feb. 2 2004
By Cathleen - 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.
10 of 10 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.
10 of 11 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.
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.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Beautifully Written Gothic Aug. 21 2004
By M. G Jackson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Reviews of this book singled out Dunmore's prose as being strikingly beautiful, so as to make the reader pause over her passages, and I definitely found this to be true. Her descriptions of the book's physical world are wondrous, usually connecting to the emotional atmosphere being created, and I did find myself slowing down to savor such tactile beauty of nature. Although some episodes threatened to be inscrutable without attentive re-reading (not a task I enjoy), for the most part the plotting of the novel was fascinating and I was definitely caught up in the gathering inevitability of Dunmore's story, a gathering storm of tragic consequences that put me in mind of McEwan's "Atonement", which is highest praise from me. The relationship between Catherine and Rob was truly creepy but I couldn't look away. The servant Kate is the most satisfying character in the book and her episodes the most potent. Although it's not long in # of pages, this novel required time to appreciate and I felt amply rewarded for that time. This is Dunmore's first novel and that is hard to believe. Her work surely bears seeking out.

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