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The Winter Vault

3.56  ·  Rating Details ·  1,672 Ratings  ·  282 Reviews

In 1964, a newly married Canadian couple settle into a houseboat on the Nile just below Abu Simbel. Avery is one of the engineers responsible for the dismantling and reconstruction of the temple, a "machine-worshipper" who is nonetheless sensitive to their destructive power. Jean is a botanist by vocation, passionately interested in everything that grows. They met on the b

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Published May 21st 2009 by Tantor Media, Inc. (first published January 1st 2009)
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Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
This one is special. To demonstrate, let me IGNORE the best parts, those where I had to stop, catch my breath, close my eyes for fear that the words are already blinding me while feeling "the blow, the disaster to a soul... caused by beauty." Allow me, instead, to maybe just pick a brief scene where nothing is happening, where the author appears to be giving the reader a respite from the seemingly endless glimpses of what literature probably is beyond this world we know--

"Dusk in Owen's bedroom,
I had the strange impression that this piece of writing was sculpted patiently out of a huge block of stone just as the giant statues of the pharaohs were sculpted in the Nubian desert. I felt that there were many more bits of writing that had been chipped away and discarded and what we were left with was the pared down shape which Michaels had carefully sculpted for us. I was fascinated by the engineering details relating to dam construction and the impact of man-made lakes on local communities ...more
Isla McKetta
Mar 14, 2012 Isla McKetta rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction-by-poets
I've been thinking about what I could say about this book that would express how much I loved it. The only way to start is with my own story. Four months ago I married the man I have loved for sixteen years and I thought marriage would be a capstone on our relationship. I didn't realize our marriage would be the beginning of a new phase of love. Reading about Jean and Avery falling in love, I saw a closeness and intimacy that mirrored ours. I remembered what it was like to fall in love with my h ...more
Nov 15, 2010 Shane rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was cautioned by those who had attempted to read this book that they had found it like “work.” Some had even given up in the attempt. And it was work in the opening chapters, when I was treated to excessive descriptions on engineering and botany, and given the exact number of villages, houses, people, goats, camels, ducks, geese and other assorted denizens who were moved during the building of the Aswan Dam in Egypt in 1964. And this excessive “dumping” of research data repeated whether in des ...more
Aug 01, 2009 Robyn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There is very little story to this novel. Two decent, smart and unremarkable people are in love and then find it difficult to love one another following the death of their child. The details of this story are given much less attention than you might expect; instead, long passages consider the wife's interest in botany or the husband's involvement in public works projects. I wondered why this is so and the answer I came up with is that this is kind of the way life is: Thinking about what you do o ...more
I'd give this another half star if I could but I cannot, in all honesty with myself, give it three.

This book was chosen--a little to my dismay, I admit (something about the title!)--by my more 'literary' bookclub. I read it slowly, trying to do so with an open mind. In the end, however, I was left feeling the same way I felt when i began: these novels are a perfect example of all the problems in so-called 'literary novels' and in so many novels written by authors who are first and foremost poet
It was better than OK.

The crazy thing was that I was reading it for no better reason than that I picked it up from my bedside table before heading out on a trip. Then I found myself sitting in a presentation in a hotel ballroom where a tidy well dressed speaker told of how a village and its inhabitants would be displaced by a mining operation and how the technology he was demonstrating would predict the costs of relocation and burden of disease before and after for the population. Why weird? Be
Jun 17, 2009 Shirley rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Anne Michaels is primarily a poet, and her prose shows it. I'm not sure I know where she is going in this book, but I think she is exploring the destruction of whole ways of life: the farms and villages that made room for the St. Lawrence Seaway, Nubian culture and life for the Aswan Dam, the Holocaust for??? Not sure about the last one, but there are hints.

How can you not love a book that starts with"
"Perhaps we painted on our own skin, with ochre and charcoal, long before we painted on stone."
Andrew Mcleod
Jan 29, 2010 Andrew Mcleod rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Nobody
Recommended to Andrew by: My wife
This is a detailed review because my wife asked me to read it and comment on it, since she was due to read it and discuss it at her book club. I must emphasize that this is a very personal perspective. I have not read Fugitive Pieces.

Hardback Edition. Bloomsbury 2009.

Prologue. A very poetic introduction - but essentially meaningless. Well - wait a minute - it may not be meaningless, but when a poet writes, it can be very difficult to get inside the mind of the poet. For example, many years ago,
This is a poetic, sensory, sensitive novel about love and dislocation, which I read gradually over a period of months, generally on Saturday mornings while eating crepes at our local farmer's market. I missed some of the detail and narrative momentum by reading it in this protracted fashion, but nonetheless it is a book that can actually be read that way without utter confusion. I found it enjoyable. I see that one reviewer here felt it regrettably "told" rather than "showed"--I would disagree w ...more
In hindsight, I wish I'd started my reading of Anne Michaels' work with Fugitive Pieces, or some of her poetry. The Winter Vault is historically and geographically rich; so much so that it read like a non-fiction work at times. The characters were well-developed and had believable backstories; I just failed to find any emotional connection with them. There was a definite distancing with the choice of narrative voice, and whilst the writing and ideas were lovely on the whole, the whole simply was ...more
Everyone knows that one guy that's just too articulate. You know, the guy who uses phrases like "his soul is courage," or maybe "it rolled out like a papyrus scroll in my palm." After awhile, it crosses the line from pleasantly odd to creepy to just plain annoying, no matter if he's right or wrong. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate those people-- they spice up life, give me something to think about when we're chatting across the table. But that kind of wording just doesn't really belong there, ev ...more
switterbug (Betsey)
The first page of this book (something between an epigraph and a prologue) informs the narrative thrust of the story and glues the abstract elements into a philosophical cohesiveness. This novel, while still a loosely constructed story with main characters and a forward progression, is primarily a meditation on the eternal forces of the human condition entwined with the timeless elements of the earth. The poetic narrative is like an instrument hovering above the earth's atmosphere and producing ...more
Aban (Aby)
Jan 26, 2017 Aban (Aby) rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jeannie Mckinney
Winter Vault is a beautifully written book. Sometimes I would wonder how Ms. Michaels could know or find the wonderful, precise words to brush her images into the reader like a watercolor, which you can paint over so much that it muddies the scene. Not here. The depictions of the temple and artifacs in Egypt were disturbing when Jean, shuddering I believed, recounted the slicing of the stones of Ramsees' leg, but beautifuly disturbing when she talked of the Nubians; downright horrifying in the r ...more
Apr 28, 2009 Rosana rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: canadian, 2009
For years I had been waiting for Anne Michaels to write this book. I loved her first novel, Fugitive Pieces, and wanted to read more of her work. Or, more precisely, wanted her to write more “Fugitive Pieces”. In a twisted way, I got exactly what I wanted... and I feel disappointed about it!

All the elements of her first work are present in The Winter Vault: the poetic and intricate writing; the historical and geological research; characters that dwell in a philosophical cosmos beyond that of th
Tim Newcomb
Jan 04, 2017 Tim Newcomb rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed Fugitive Pieces more than The Winter Vault. FP felt more coherent with better character development. But the same use of poetic devices adapted to novel format that made Fugitive Pieces stand out make The Winter Vault a piece of art as well. Michaels uses hundreds of parallels and metaphors to capture emotions difficult to express and weaves them into the broader story. Her writing is emotionally dense like poetry; it's closer to reading Leave of Grass than Tender is the Night. A more ...more
Ruth Seeley
I'm not a big fan of Anne Michaels and I have to say the Quill and Quire review sums up my feelings about this one: Still, I liked it a lot better than Fugitive Pieces, and there were some highly quotable gems amongst the prose, which does seem a little less 'hothouse exotic' than in her previous novel. Still, Michaels' fiction suffers from a refusal to embrace realism stylistically even when she tackles themes - love, loss, displacement - that could ben ...more
Teresa Mills-clark
I'm still a little spellbound by this author ... the novel was one to be savoured. As much as I was enthralled, I also needed to put it down and let it "steep" and "seep" into my mind.

To me, a good book is one which must always be engaging. A great book is one which challenges how I perceive things, offers alternative perspectives and raises my awareness of Issue(s) either new or revisited.
The author wrote factually in a lyrical style. No mean feat.

The following is an excerpt by way of an exa

It's just one of those things, you know. The writing is beautiful, so many poignant turns of phrase I couldn't possibly list them all. The love story was also beautiful, the longing between Jean and Avery so palpable I almost couldn't bear it when they separated. Loss, love, retribution, tragedy, beauty within tragedy ... this novel has it all.

And I can't figure out why I didn't enjoy it more.

Maybe it was just too much. As isolated sentences, the book is unique in its truth. But throw all th
Jul 14, 2009 Ann rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I took my time reading this novel because it was so rich with zen koan-like phrases that made me stop and contemplate. Even with all the start and stop, I still felt connected to the main characters and the forward motion of their story. I was fascinated by the book's interwoven stories of displacement (whole towns that were displaced when the St. Lawrence Seaway was built in Canada, thousand of Nubian villagers who lost their homes and civilization when the Aswan Dam flooded the Nile to form La ...more
Deborah Stevenson
This is a tough one! I have vacillated between loving this book and despairing that I had to read another page. It felt heavy, from the theme, to the prose, to the characters movements. The characters felt unreal to me, so complex yet so simple at the same time that they didn't ring true. Does anyone really go thru life as these characters spending so much time on introspection? If so how do these people have any time for the day to day nuts and bolts of living?
I have 16 post it notes attached f
Aug 22, 2009 Marlene rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Well, I did finish, but can't say I loved this. The author is clearly a master with words, with a poetic approach to emotions, etc., but the frequent references to things mechanical and technological create too harsh a contrast, and the two themes do not come together for me. I think she tried to put too much into a basically slim volume. We have the past lives of three characters, past lives which do not ever really come together. The theme of destruction of cities is repeated, but gets tedious ...more
Mar 31, 2010 Jeanette rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved "Fugitive Pieces" and I really enjoyed reading "The Winter Vault." The themes of change and loss seem to dominate the novel. These themes are developed as the Aswan Dam on the Nile is being built and Avery Escher oversees the removal and reassembly of the Abu Simbel temple to higher ground to save it from being flooded. Also, the memories Avery and Jean share of the damning of the St. Lawrence river to provide hydro electric power echo these themes.

These themes are echoed in their perso
Sometimes books such as this one make me feel like I'm missing depth and emotion as a person, that I live a superficial life because I don't feel as deeply as these characters do, that I don't imagine like they do or fall apart like they do.
I don't understand stories like this, these ones that require understanding of the pain and emotions, that require sympathy and empathy for these people. I did not feel anything for these characters, I read about them but didn't 'get' them, couldn't feel the
Michaels has an amazing grasp of language and her use of words is beautiful and evocative....but this book is too much repetition of the same idea...I eventually felt almost bludgeoned by the images of Warsaw and war. Perhaps this is the author's intent but instead of increasing my compassion I began to feel inured against acknowledging yet more suffering and horror. Sometimes " less is more" and I think that less would have made this novel 4 star instead of 3. Not as good as Fugitive Pieces but ...more
May 25, 2009 Erin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2009
Anne Michaels is one of my favorite poets, so I went into this book with high hopes. I think, though, that if I didn't love her poetry, I wouldn't have loved this book, since that's pretty much all it is. The plot (which is not exactly dense) just sort of seemed to exist so that she could have her characters make beautiful statements about life and love and history. And botany and engineering. Frankly, I was okay with that, but I imagine a lot of people might not be. Bonus points for making me w ...more
I just didn't get this one. There were seeds of two good novels in there, but it ended up a confusing mishmash. I would love a novel about the building of the Aswan dam or the reconstruction of Germany after WWII, but not a combined novel. I would have preferred more attention to the plot and less to the language. In the end, I didn't care about any of the characters and almost quit halfway through.
Sandy Brusin
Feb 12, 2015 Sandy Brusin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Anne Michaels writes like the poet she is and uses metaphor the way poets do. Water washes away lives and places in the constructions of the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Aswan Dam -- just as lives and places are "washed" away by the Holocaust in Warsaw. She wrote: "Grief bakes in us, it bakes until one day the blade pushes in and comes out clean." In my book, that's great writing!
Dec 07, 2009 Irene rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I must admit I didn't always get what was going on in this book, but when it had me it had me deep. The story is easy to summarize but the book is hard for me to describe. It's a lot about the characters' interior lives, especially what happens when two people resonate deeply. I felt like it literally pulled emotions out of me.
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From Canadian Poetry Online:

Anne Michaels was born in Toronto, Canada, in 1958. She is the author of one novel Fugitive Pieces, which explores the possibility of love and faith alter the Holocaust, with language marked by power, elegance, and integrity. Ms. Michaels, who has also composed musical scores for the theater, has said "when you put a tremendous amount of love into your work, as in any r
More about Anne Michaels...

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“In every childhood there is a door that closes. Only real love waits while we journey through our grief. That is the real trustworthiness between people. In all the epics, in all the stories that have lasted through many lifetimes, it is always the same truth: love must wait for wounds to heal. It is this waiting we must do for each other, not with a sense of mercy, or in judgment, but as if forgiveness were a rendezvous. How many are willing to wait for another in this way?” 13 likes
“And she knew for the first time that someone can wire your skin in a single evening, and that love arrives not by accumulating to a moment, like a drop of water focused on the tip of a branch - it is not the moment of bringing your whole life to another - but rather, it is everything you leave behind. At that moment.
Even that night, the night he touched one inch of her in the dark, how simply Avery seemed to accept the facts - that they were on the edge of lifelong happiness and, therefore, inescapable sorrow. It was as if, long ago, a part of him had broken off inside, and now finally, he recognised the dangerous fragment that had been floating in his system, causing him intermittent pain over the years. As if he could now say of that ache: "Ah. It was you.”
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