As I’ve written before in book reviews, I often look to books in slightly opposing ways: both to find myself, and to be introduced to a completely different world. Patrick Gale’s latest novel, A Place Called Winter, has a pleasing familiarity to me as a Canadian, as Canada is the setting of much of the book, where the protagonist battles to establish a farm in the Canadian prairies.
I also have a connection with Denmark, and though Dane in the book is a villain, I still liked seeing the way he was translated to the page. The parts of the book set in pre-war England were familiar, but not in as enjoyable a way: I feel somehow that I’ve visited this period a lot through film and other books.
Addressing sexuality, and repressed sexuality, and how people in an earlier time made connections with each other without language about sexual identity, is perhaps not a new topic anymore, but I liked the way it was handled.
In any case, there is a broad enough range of themes tackled and characters described that a reader will find interesting new worlds as well as the familiarity of human nature. The book is structured in a complex and engaging way, going back and forth in time, and as with my experience of Gale’s work today, his writing is incredibly readable. I mean this as a compliment: it’s not particularly showy but is beautiful and serves the narrative well.
I managed to avoid reviews and other profiles before reading the book so was nicely surprised at the end to find the book is an interpretation of Gale’s own family history; it makes the story all the richer.