The Costa Book Awards are a prestigious British book award that will be held in January. This month, I'll be reading the Novel shortlist consisting of four books, this week is A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale.
As I've said before, it's so hard to write reviews for certain books and A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale is one of them. I had absolutely no expectations when I started reading it and I was completely blown away by everything about this book.
The story is set in Victorian England where we see Harry and his younger brother Jack grow up without any real parents. They have to fend for themselves, with Harry becoming the quiet, responsible one and Jack being the social and spontaneous brother. The main character is Harry and we see his day to day life and how this eventually changes when he gets married and has a child. However, Harry then discovers some new feelings that he had never known about before.
At the same, we also gets scenes from a mental hospital where Harry is apparently years later. The details are vague, but we see horrendous treatments being performed on him to cure his "condition."
Just like A God In Ruins, A Place Called Winter is a plot you have to puzzle together yourself. We get glimpses of different times in Harry's life and the different places he has lived; England, Canada and an outdoor retreat for people with mental issues. As a reader, we're constantly piecing together how Harry got to these places and what will happen next, which is a process I thoroughly enjoyed thanks to Patrick Gale's amazing writing. Though Harry evolves as a character, he is recognisable and relatable in every scenario and I felt very connected to him throughout the book.
Spoilers! From here on, I'll discuss a major plot element (though many, many reviewers do too so it's not extremely spoiler-ish). If you want to stay completely spoiler-free, then don't read below this picture:
Though I mostly avoid spoilers, I feel like I can't discuss this book without discussing one major plot element: Harry's homosexual feelings and the response of society to these feelings. As discussed before, Harry gets married but after a few years, he meets a man and starts a sexual relationship with him. Once those feelings get revealed, we really get an insight into Victorian England's attitude towards homosexuality and the often awful treatment people received because of it. I loved how Patrick Gale was able to contrast the feeling of helplessness Harry has about his homosexuality and the brashness and coldness of even the people closest to him. It was extremely heartbreaking and made me tear up at several times. This element of the story did not only make it a more emotional story, but it also made it a historical lesson into the way people were treated and the realities of Victorian England.
I really enjoyed this book. If I have to compare it to A God In Ruins by Kate Atkinson I honestly don't know which one is better. Both books have amazing main characters, a complex and intriguing plot and some of the best writing I've ever read. A Place Called Winter, however, was definitely easier to get into and really gripped me from the first moment. It might be a tad more predictable, especially the ending, but it was both heartbreaking and heartwarming and an amazing reading experience.