The Winter Vault


By Anne Michaels

The Short Take:

This is possibly the most lyrical, beautifully written book I have ever had the pleasure to read. It’s no surprise Michaels is also a poet — each sentence betrays her artistry. But don’t go looking for a complex plot. That’s not what this gem is about.

Why?

Please don’t whip through this book. You’ll do yourself a major disservice. And the author as well. This novel begs to be savored, page by page. There are so many lines to think about, so many descriptions that make you ache, so much to appreciate — just take your time. Read it bit by bit.

Michaels put her emphasis on her richly nuanced characters rather than her plot. In fact, the plot is so minimal there’s no chance you’ll lose its thread even if you read other books simultaneously (like I did in order to make this one last longer).

The pain of loss and the renewed reality (or is merely illusion?) that comes with rebuilding lies at the heart of this amazing book. Temples, homes, children, nations, everything but memories disappear and reappear in the stories the characters tell each other as well as through their direct actions.

This book gives you so much to think about, so much to feel, it was almost overwhelming in its richness. But it is very much an internal book, driven by feelings rather than actions. ¬†For those of us more used to reading books where a cunning plot twist means more than the language, it could be a disappointment — even boring.

But I was enraptured.

A Little Plot:

Avery and his bride Jean journey to Eqypt to oversee the relocation of the Temple of Abu Simbel, saving it from inundation once the Aswan Dam is completed. They had met and married in Canada, where he helped create a new waterway that sped commerce but caused thousands of forced relocations. He hopes to find solace for those displacements by saving something precious, but has doubts.

The Aswan Dam also displaces a whole civilization — an epic tragedy. Jean and Avery suffer their own tragedy as well and return to Canada with separate lives. As they struggle to find their futures, Jean pursues her passion for botany while Avery studies architecture in order to build. She meets a Polish artist whose stories of the destruction and resurrection of Warsaw seem to reflect her own life.

This is already more plot than I ever reveal — though less than the book jacket. But this is one time when it’s not the plot, it’s everything else that really matters.

Anne Michaels does not seek the spotlight, but for a fairly recent interview, click here.

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