Title: A Place Called Winter
Author: Patrick Gale
Release: 24th March 2015
Publisher: Tinder Press
Genre: M/M (historical)
To find yourself, sometimes you must lose everything.
A privileged elder son, and stammeringly shy, Harry Cane has followed convention at every step. Even the beginnings of an illicit, dangerous affair do little to shake the foundations of his muted existence - until the shock of discovery and the threat of arrest cost him everything.
Forced to abandon his wife and child, Harry signs up for emigration to the newly colonised Canadian prairies. Remote and unforgiving, his allotted homestead in a place called Winter is a world away from the golden suburbs of turn-of-the-century Edwardian England. And yet it is here, isolated in a seemingly harsh landscape, under the threat of war, madness and an evil man of undeniable magnetism that the fight for survival will reveal in Harry an inner strength and capacity for love beyond anything he has ever known before.
In this exquisite journey of self-discovery, loosely based on a real life family mystery, Patrick Gale has created an epic, intimate human drama, both brutal and breathtaking. It is a novel of secrets, sexuality and, ultimately, of great love.
Picked for the BBC Radio 2 Simon Mayo Book Club and the Waterstones Book Club.
Sometimes the most unintended actions can turn out to be the most splendid surprises. When I was home in Cornwall this September on holiday visiting my family, I spied this book out of the corner of my eye in the shop window of Waterstones bookshop in Truro. First of all the cover caught my eye. Seemingly innocuous at first sight but then the wilderness and solitude of seeing a single man with a suitcase drew in me for a closer look. My heart just reached out to this forlorn image, one that spoke of loss and yet maybe a new start. Then after reading the synopsis I was immediately intrigued, it had “buy me” written all over it.
Well, now I have finished the book all I can say is I have been utterly charmed and stand in awe of the writing talent of Mr Gale. A book of epic proportions, that had me invested from start to finish, a book that was not easily put down and I was only longing to get back to reading it at every opportunity. A book that showed me some things in life are out of my control and others maybe not. But the main thing is to try and find our happiness the best way we can and to never give up.
We all know the rags to riches trope but this book genuinely is a riches to rags one, but in so doing a greater freedom and peace is eventually found than thought possible. Based on Mr Gale's own great grandfather A Place Called Winter is the story of one man who loses everything that is familiar to him and due to circumstances beyond his control is forced to start the adventure of his life. This is Harry’s story. A story that is every bit as heartfelt as it is heart-breaking. A story that takes almost a lifetime to reach a final but still fragile happy ever after.
Harry has to leave the UK and fast. After all if your sexual preferences have left you in a loveless marriage and the all too imminent fear of being arrested at the turn of the last century looms over your head like The Sword of Damocles , what do you do? Correct, you run! You run as far as you can. At a time when Canada was still uncultivated and being settled from Europe with land up for grabs, Harry leaves everything behind to start out on a new life, a hard one full of danger and where survival of the fittest is the law.
However, for me it was also about Harry’s internal struggle, his feelings for the love that dare not speak its name. A love that at that time would have had him in serious trouble wherever he found himself. It’s really excruciating to think how people lived in fear and dread of being discovered and yet the instinct and urge is sometimes all too consuming. Profoundly sad and heart-breaking in itself viewed from today’s perspective.
His story starts at Bethel Ranch, a retreat for treatment and observation after he had been released from Essondale Asylum. Why he was exactly there we don't really find out until the end of the book but this ranch is run by a doctor, Gideon Ormshaw, who seems to have an interest in the mental condition of the "sexual deviant." This place for me seemed a little too nice, too modern in its attitudes towards mental illness for the period in question, but it is a key place in getting to know Harry's story. Who knows? Maybe some did have it a little better than others. As Gideon says,
"Places like Essondale exist because we don't know what else to do with people who threaten themselves. As for treatments, we pretend we know what we're doing but strictly speaking, it's all experimental."
Upon arriving in Canada Harry tries to survive the best way he can in a time and place that was harsh and untamed, where the winters were unrelenting and would take their toll of lives if unprepared. Everyone depended on the help of others just to survive. Here Harry was lucky and had the perfect neighbours. However, there were also people ready to use and abuse the predicament of others too as in any society. Bullies of the worst kind. One extremely unlikable user and abuser is Troels. A disgusting, manipulative little opportunist who had me wanting to punch him for Harry every time he turned up on the page. A totally objectionable, slimy piece of work. Here I just wanted to slap some sense into Harry at being so blind. Maybe he wasn't, but I guess in a strange land where you have no clue about what to expect then you latch on to the first person that seems to offer you help. That help did come at a price though but at least it did mean that Harry survived his first year in Canada and got him on his feet when so many failed and paid the ultimate price for their folly.
However, Harry does find moments of tenderness with one adorable guy, something that today can be said to have developed into gay love and a relationship as best as it could be managed with the beliefs and mindset of the time. Harry travels the whole spectrum of human emotion from betrayal to fear, to outrage, to loss, to acceptance and in the end to love. It was a journey, a long journey, not only physically with the vast expanses of Canada, taming the land and fighting for survival. But also emotionally where many people played a role and influenced his life, not only the men but also the women in a platonic way after leaving his wife and child behind in England. He finds one person that he could confide in and doesn't judge him for his ways as she is all too familiar with them, recognising the same in her brother whom she loves unconditionally. A beautiful brother and sister relationship as it should be. There for each other, helping and supporting each other, sticking together through thick and thin.
The other aspect that I loved and had me intrigued was the introduction of the local, native Canadians called Cree. Here we a have peace loving and accepting people that were driven from their land by the pioneers of the day. We see a strong contrast between the puritanical, prohibitive, white, missionary attitudes of the day and the more accepting, at one with nature, peaceful ways of the Cree. One character especially caught my interest at the beginning and by the end totally adored was a Cree who went by the name of Ursula although in his male clothes was known as Little Bear. He was at Bethel Ranch with Harry and obviously at that time totally misunderstood, an anomaly, where today he would in all probability be recognised as being transgender I reckon. A gentle, understanding and sensitive soul trapped within two identities or as he calls it and knows it from Cree "two-souls"
"I was special and my father was proud of me. But to the missionaries, I was an evil influence. They cut my hair short and the evil they saw in me was beaten out day after day. My shaman had taught me better and earlier than the priest did, and I suffered..."
But then WWI arrives and even in far flung Canada families are torn apart, loved ones missed, some never return. It was so sad to think that even here the war had such far reaching effects I had never realised before. This was also a catalyst for Harry, triggering another chain of occurrences that left him bereft and isolated with his feelings. Geez, at this point I did start to tear up. The longing in his heart was just palpable, split asunder by the emotions he shouldn't show but breaking apart inside. No wonder the poor man had a breakdown ending with a spell in a sanatorium. I think I would have gone nuts, there's only so much heartache, grief and loss one man can withstand.
I suppose the main question for our blog is, is it an M/M Romance? In a broad sense, what I can truly say is most definitely YES! If you like wide-sweeping stories that deal with human emotion and feelings, sexuality, how people affect our lives, then Harry’s plight is as tragic, emotional and heart-breaking as any M/M romance I have ever read.
Mr Gale's writing is beautiful and subtle, you never get the "graphic" descriptions of the love scenes, this is left to the reader's imagination but there is enough there to feel all the emotions I’ve mentioned above without the obvious ever having to be stated. These underlying connotations and undercurrents, the what is left unsaid are every bit as poignant, heartfelt and sensitive as any lucid description. A man trapped in a time where the basic fact of being gay would mean running, hiding and being so far in the closet that if you ever dared to air your true emotions then you would have to live in fear of any possible repercussions. So it would be wrong to write about these things in an open and detailed way. Sensitively penned with love and affection, a novel to lose yourself in more than once.
So does Harry get his HEA? Yes, he does! A very bittersweet, poignant and fragile one but an ending suitable for the period which left me comforted to know that after all the trials and tribulations Harry went through he will at last be able to find peace and happiness. After finishing this book with tears in my eyes and a smile on my face all I can sincerely wish for is that Mr Gale's great grandfather found his own peace and happiness whatever his true story might have been.
Patrick Gale Introduces and Reads from
A Place Called Winter
Patrick Introduces A Place Called Winter
Reading - Part 1
Reading - Part 2
Meet Patrick Gale
Patrick was born on 31 January 1962 on the Isle of Wight, where his father was prison governor at Camp Hill, as his grandfather had been at nearby Parkhurst. He was the youngest of four – one sister, two brothers, spread over ten years. The family moved to London, where his father ran Wandsworth Prison, then to Winchester. At eight Patrick began boarding as a Winchester College Quirister at the cathedral choir school, Pilgrim’s. At thirteen he went on to Winchester College. He finished his formal education with an English degree from New College, Oxford in 1983.
He has never had a grown-up job. For three years he lived at a succession of addresses, from a Notting Hill bedsit to a crumbling French chateau. While working on his first novels he eked out his slender income with odd jobs; as a typist, a singing waiter, a designer’s secretary, a ghost-writer for an encyclopedia of the musical and, increasingly, as a book reviewer.
His first two novels, The Aerodynamics of Pork and Ease were published by Abacus on the same day in June 1986. The following year he moved to Camelford near the north coast of Cornwall and began a love affair with the county that has fed his work ever since.
He now lives in the far west, on a farm near Land’s End with his husband, Aidan Hicks. There they raise beef cattle and grow barley. Patrick is obsessed with the garden they have created in what must be one of England’s windiest sites and which includes England’s westernmost walled rose garden, and he deeply resents the time his writing makes him spend away from working in it. As well as gardening, he plays both the modern and baroque cello. He chairs the North Cornwall Book Festival, patron of Penzance LitFest and a director of both Endelienta and the Charles Causley Trust. His chief extravagance in life is opera tickets.
Connect with Patrick
Also available on…….
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Available in the USA / Amazon.com in March 2016. Can be pre-ordered now.