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The Winter Vault [Hardcover]

Anne Michaels
3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 31 2009 077105890X 978-0771058905 1st 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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"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
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
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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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Major disappointment May 17 2010
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A lovely meditation on place June 6 2010
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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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars not what i hoped it would be.... May 17 2010
By J
I loved Fugitive Pieces, but did not like this book. Yes, her writing is beautiful, poetic, etc. I appreciate that. Although I am not an expert, I'm fairly certain a novel still requires a plot. In addition to a absent plot, this novel also lacked believable characters, reasonable dialogue (seriously, who talks like that?!), engaging action, and any semblance of humor or whit. I made it through, and was so relieved when it was over.
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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 100 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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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lyrical Sept. 12 2009
By Saro
'The Winter Vault' is the long awaited novel from Canadian novelist Anne Michaels who penned the international best-selling lyrical novel 'Fugitive Pieces' in the last decade. In 'The Winter Vault', Michael juxtaposes a non-linear structure set in Canada and Egypt and the reader is also privy to memories to post-war Europe, particularly war-torn Poland and England.

Although, the novel is somewhat reminiscent of her other fictional masterpiece, 'The Winter Vault' is interwoven in such eloquent, passionate, and beautiful language that reading it almost seems like an intrusion to the melancholic, isolated, and beautifully flawed characters.

Due to a move, this book took its sweet time to get to me, but the wait was well worth it. Michaels' voice is ebullient, richly evocative, and still manages to be self-deprecating at times.
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