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The Winter Vault [Hardcover]

Anne Michaels
3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 31 2009 077105890X 978-0771058905 First Edition
The long-awaited novel by the internationally celebrated author of Fugitive Pieces, the debut novel that catapulted Anne Michaels into the forefront of literary superstars.

“The future casts its shadow on the past. In this way, first gestures contain everything . . .”

Anne Michaels’s first work of fiction in more than a decade, The Winter Vault is a stunning, richly layered, and timeless novel that is everything we could hope for for Michaels’s second novel — and more. Set in Canada and Egypt, and with flashbacks to England and Poland after the war, The Winter Vault is a spellbinding love story that juxtaposes momentous historical events with the most intimate moments of individual lives.

In 1964, a newly married Canadian couple settle into a houseboat on the Nile just below Abu Simbel. At the time of the building of the Aswam dam, Avery Escher is one of the engineers responsible for the dismantling and reconstruction of a sacred temple, a “machine-worshipper” who is nonetheless sensitive to their destructive power. Jean is a botanist by avocation, passionately interested in everything that grows. They met on the banks of the St. Lawrence River, witnessing the construction of the Seaway as it swallowed towns, homes, and lives. Now, at the edge of another world about to be inundated in the name of progress, much of what they most believe in is tested.

When a tragic event occurs, nearing the end of Avery’s time in Egypt, he and Jean return to separate lives in Toronto; Avery to school to study architecture and Jean into the orbit of Lucjan, a Polish émigré artist whose haunting tales of occupied Warsaw pull her further from her husband, while offering her the chance to assume her most essential life.

Breathtaking, vivid in its exploration of both the physical and emotional worlds of its characters, intensely moving and lyrical, The Winter Vault is a radiant work of fiction and contains all the elements for which Anne Michaels is celebrated.

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Review

"Profound loss, desolation and rebuilding are the literal and metaphoric themes of Michaels's exquisite second novel (after Fugitive Pieces)…. A tender love story set against an intriguing bit of history is handled with uncommon skill."
Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

"Has it been worth the wait? It has. . . . Anne Michaels, in short, is back. "
—  Globe and Mail

"A tender love story set against an intriguing bit of history is handled with uncommon skill."
—  Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"A major achievement. . . . "
—  NOW magazine (Four Ns)

"Literature is all the better for it."
—  The New York Times

"The anticipation, more than a decade in the building, has been eager, the recent buzz intense. And if McClelland & Stewart sees The Winter Vault, its new novel from Anne Michaels, as the publishing event of the season, there is vibrant and compelling justification. . . . "
—  Ottawa Citizen

About the Author

Anne Michaels’s first novel was the award-winning, internationally bestselling Fugitive Pieces. Its prizes include a Lannan Literary Award for Fiction, the Chapters/Books in Canada First Novel Award, the Guardian Fiction Award, and the Orange Prize for Fiction. She is also the author of three highly acclaimed poetry collections. She lives in Toronto.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A lovely meditation on place June 6 2010
Format:Paperback
I guess that I can see why not everyone loves this novel, in that this is not a strongly narrative work, but I found it powerful and moving, a book that tells me much about loss and its relationship to place. I strongly recommend it.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
The first half of the book was excellent. The linking of the St. Lawrence Seaway and Nile projects (and the impact on people's lives) was a brilliant idea and the love story of Avery and Jean well done.

But in the second half of the book, too many characters are introduced and the flowery text is hard to follow and frustrating. I slogged through the second half of the book. Overall, disappointing due to the book's annoying second half.
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5.0 out of 5 stars against all odds Oct. 19 2013
Format:Hardcover
From the first page, I knew The Winter Vault by Anne Michaels was going to be a book I would fall in love with -- slowly, languorously, completely. I wanted to slow time down, to be able to savour the experience, to put the ending of this book off for as long as I could. I wanted it to be the opposite of a page-turner, whatever that is.

The story is set in the 1960‘s during the building of the St. Lawrence Seaway and later the Aswan dam in Egypt. One of the lead characters, Avery, is a civil engineer working on dismantling the sacred architecture of the Abu Simbel temple and moving it to higher ground. His new wife Jean accompanies him.

In a memorable passage, Avery paints watercolour landscapes on the bare white skin of Jean’s back on board the deck of a houseboat on the Nile. The image echoes the opening sentence of the book: “Perhaps we painted on our own skin, with ochre and charcoal, long before we painted on stone.”

The Winter Vault is a book about loss and dispossession and the inevitable loneliness of the human condition. But it’s also about individuals finding each other against all odds.
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3.0 out of 5 stars The Winter Vault Dec 29 2012
By oldgirl
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I chose this because of the Lost Villages/St. Lawrence Seaway project content as I live in the Lost Viilages area. I began to read it twice the first time only a few chapters. The first time I was irritated by the format in which it was written and the lack of certain punctuation. Pages of non stop dialoguewith no quotations confused me as to who was speaking and I closed the book and gave up. I tried again to read it and and once I had resigned myself to the writer's style got over this and read it for what I believe the author meant it to be. I did finish it and I have a love/hate relationship with the book.
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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The audacity of words May 27 2009
By Friederike Knabe TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Not many authors would have the boldness to connect three completely unrelated examples of engineering ingenuity in three different continents under one thematic arc, however complex and multilayered. Anne Michaels has done just that in her new, long awaited second novel, THE WINTER VAULT. Michaels' passion is, however, less focused on the impressive visible results of these engineering achievements - the Aswan Dam in Egypt, the St. Lawrence Seaway in Canada and the post-World War II reconstruction of Warsaw's Old City - and centred more on the people who have been involved in these constructions or those who have been impacted by the resulting changes. In rich poetic prose, the author interweaves the intimate experiences and musings of her protagonists with broad societal questions and her own philosophical reflections.

The story begins in 1964 when the ancient Abu Simbel temple complex in Upper Egypt needed to be carved up and moved block by block, through a complicated process, to higher ground, to protect it from the impending flood waters of the dam. Avery Escher, a British engineer, is overseeing this delicate operation. His relevant experience stems from his training through his father during the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway. Avery is a practical, forward looking man, who can only imagine positive change emerging from such major redesigning efforts. His young wife Jean, having grown up in this region of Canada, had a different perspective on the project, and as a result is less convinced of the potential benefits of change for the affected people. She is also concerned with the need to preserve what was there, such as the local flora and fauna.

What brought those two very different people together, other than some parallel aspects in their personal lives?
Read more ›
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Major disappointment May 17 2010
Format:Hardcover
I love Fugitive Pieces and was so looking forward to Anne Michaels' next book. In the event I am sad to say that I found it barely readable. I did follow it to the end for the occasional flashes of her poetic brilliance, but it was very hard work.

The novel groans under the weight of excess research baggage. Erudite stuff is poured in without discrimination: Egypt, Canada, Nubia, England, Poland, Germany, botany, architecture, structural engineering, child birth, and more. Moreover the narrative jumps around confusingly in place and time.
I like serious novels and weighty themes, but light and shade help to convey nuance. Here there is no light, apart from the over-precious ramblings of characters recalling their childhoods. And there is no light in love either: 'happiness means suffering' is a dictum that is specifically spelt out.
Unremitting seriousness is the tone and the preciousness of the lead characters becomes unintentionally comic. A dirge in music can contain subtle notes, but it is still a dirge, and this novel is an epic dirge.

Katy Jurado
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