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A Spell Of Winter
Helen Dunmore
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A Spell Of Winter

3.55  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,167 Ratings  ·  137 Reviews
The inaugural winner of England's prestigious Orange Prize, A Spell of Winter is a compelling turn-of-the-century tale of innocence corrupted by secrecy, and the grace of second chances. Cathy and her brother, Rob, have forged a passionate refuge against the terror of loneliness and family secrets, but their sibling love becomes fraught with danger. As Catherine fights fre ...more
Published (first published January 1st 1995)
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Bre V.
Sep 06, 2012 Bre V. rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
For whatever reason, I have some kind of secret (not to secret now) fascination for literary brother/sister incest stories. Maybe because I have no brothers and thus no frame of reference to get suitably skeeved out by it. But whatever, neither here nor there.

The trouble with this book was that it just plain loses you. Parts of it are good - her writing style is gorgeous in places, tedious in others - and frankly, I just had a hard time keeping up with what the hell was going on. You gotta have
Sep 27, 2010 Toocutedobs rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This book is a depressing text of the multi-generational misery of one family. I finished the book in hopes of discovery the answer to the family secrets but found no satisfaction there or anywhere else in this book. But somebody liked this book since it is a "Orange Winner" a prestigious award from England. I found it dreary and the characters worthy of a good slap and a "What the heck are you thinking/doing!"
Grace Harwood
Mar 07, 2013 Grace Harwood rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Of all Helen Dunmore's books, this is my very favourite. I've read it twice and plan on reading it again because it is a truly beautifully written, haunting tale. The chill which has taken hold of the crumbling previously grand country house and its occupants is almost tangible - you will get cold fingers just holding the book and turning the pages. The house and characters are both occupied by dark secrets and watching the evolution/aftermath which is derived from them makes for compulsive read ...more
Sep 18, 2013 Susan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This haunting and evocative novel was the first Orange Prize Winner and set a high standard for future hopefuls. Helen Dunmore creates a world which is at once understandable and yet totally different. Rob and Catherine live in virtual isolation in the crumbling old house belonging to their grandfather. It is gradually revealed to us that their mother has left and is living abroad, while their father, unable to cope without her, has been admitted to a sanitorium. We see events through the eyes o ...more
Helen Corcoran
Mar 16, 2009 Helen Corcoran rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historical, adult, 2008
The author's name seemed really familiar to me until I realised I'd been staring at her children's work for about a year by then, but I hadn't known she'd written books for adults, too.

This book has incest in it, but if your only experience of incest is Virginia Andrews, then you're in for a shock because Helen Dunmore can write circles around her. (Also, it won the Orange Prize in 1996, so someone with literary power obviously thought it was good, too. :D) I cannot stress how amazingly beautifu
Lezanne Clannachan
A Spell of Winter follows the lives of Cathy and Rob before, during and after World War I. Their mother abandons the family home when they are children and their father dies, leaving them to grow up in a decaying mansion cut off from the rest of the world. Their sense of isolation and dependency on each other mutates into incest. It is testament to the strength of Dunmore’s writing that she delivers truths about love and loss through the vehicle of such ingrained taboo. I didn’t merely believe i ...more
Dec 05, 2008 Brenda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
“It is winter, my season…. My winter excitement quickened each year with the approach of darkness. I wanted the thermometer to drop lower and lower until not even a trace of mercury showed against the figures. I wanted us to wake to a kingdom of ice where our breath would turn to icicles as it left our lips, and we would walk through tunnels of snow to the outhouses and find birds fallen dead from the air. I willed the snow to lie for ever, and I turned over and buried my head under the pillow s ...more
Megan Chance
Jan 03, 2015 Megan Chance rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This tale of a brother and sister in the English countryside is gorgeous, uncomfortable, lyrical, sad and hopeful. Dunmore captures a mood and plunges you into it without mercy. It's a bit of a demanding read--Dunmore leaps across time and space, her narrative mirroring the way people think, but as a result, you are immersed completely. She doesn't rationalize or explain away her characters' actions, but simply presents them without judgment, and while the characters may be difficult to like, th ...more
Feb 02, 2009 Heather rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
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Jun 29, 2014 anolinde rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 10, 2015 Eva rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well, this book wasn't what I expected at all. I picked it because I saw it had won the Orange award, and went into it not knowing much else about it. The cover made me think I was in for a romance novel with heaving bosoms and complicated schemes to bring about unexpected and perhaps diasapproved but fortuitous marriage proposals. However, the beginning quickly disabused me of those notions, as it started with a description of a decaying body being carried clumsily down stairs, and moved on to ...more
Apr 27, 2016 Peaches rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: entertainment
This book almost got five stars from me. It's Flowers in the Attic with actual attention to developed writing style and a historical time period. Moreover, it's similar to The Mill on the Floss, one of my favorite period books. Eliot's work does not have overt incest (it was enough just to hint towards attraction during that time period), but the close connection of the isolated siblings, the jealousy of the suitors, the "dark" beauty in the pristine society of appearances who is othered (like M ...more
Theresa Leone Davidson
A while back The Nation printed all of the Orange Prize winners, and I have read a few of them, and found that I either agreed wholeheartedly with the book winning the award, or I was befuddled because I REALLY did not like the story. A Spell of Winter falls somewhere in between. I waffled between three and four stars for this one: there are lines, whole passages, that are so beautifully written, I found myself rereading them, and the relationship between the narrator, Catherine, and her brother ...more
Sep 30, 2012 Christie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourite-books
I read Helen Dunmore’s novel With Your Crooked Heart many years ago and I’ve been a fan ever since. Dunmore’s prose is like poetry, every sentence a perfect balance between beauty and truth. Winner of the 1996 Orange Prize, A Spell of Winter is the fourth novel I’ve read by her, and I have also read her collection of short stories, Ice Cream.

A Spell of Winter concerns the lives of Cathy and Rob, siblings who live in a crumbling manor house in England. Their guardian is their maternal grandfather
Sep 23, 2013 Penny rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: orange-prize
This is a strange, haunting story of forbidden love, abandoned families and loneliness.

The novel is quite bleak in parts whilst still being readable. The main narrator is Catherine but she is unreliable, vague and at times, totally removed from what has really taken place.

The weather plays quite a part - coldness and numbness, not just cold but without warmth anywhere, all greenery shrouded and subdued - this is Catherine's life. Yet she does not help herself to reach beyond the chill of her li
An absent mother and dying father leave Catherine and her brother Rob in pseudo-isolation, encouraging the relationship between them to grow intense and intimate. But when that relationship begins to break down, Catherine alone must reconstruct the fragments of her life. A Spell of Winter is a dream of a book, disjointed, atmospheric, and cold. However effective that atmosphere, it deadens the intensity of relationships and characters's sufferings. The right elements are there: a complex and dis ...more
Kate Hamer
Rob and Catherine live in a great rambling country house, which freezing cold - their grandfather who looks after them is running out of money and finds it hard to keep the place up. Both their parents are absent and their one point of human warmth is Kate - the housekeeper. As they grow up the lives of the brother and sister turn in on each other in sinister ways. The cold, the winter imagery is all impeccable here. The ghastly Miss Gallagher is both a pathetic and malignant force in Catherine' ...more
Apr 10, 2013 Kathy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, historical
This book is hard to like, but it's also hard not to like. Set in the years before WWI, it's the story of Catherine and her life as it happens around her. She lives with her grandfather in a big old house with her older brother Rob, her nanny, Kate, and a hated tutor named Miss Gallagher.

Her mother has left the family in the beginning and no reason is really given but you get the feeling she didn't want to be a wife and mother anymore in the cold, dark house. Her father is in a sanatorium at th
I had a difficult time deciding how to rate this book. Dunmore writes beautifully and vividly. In the end though, that wasn't enough. The book is populated with isolated, ignorant, damaged, and mentally ill characters. There is more, but I don't want to include any spoilers. It was a depressing and claustrophobic read. I'm sure that was meant to echo the lives of the characters, but the small breakthrough at the end wasn't nearly enough to make up for the dismal trial of the first 300 pages. I f ...more
Uta Mooney
Dec 29, 2013 Uta Mooney rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm a big fan of Helen Dunmore's writing and this book did not disappoint. I felt like I was inside the head of the main character, Cathy. I saw what she saw, felt what she felt. A Spell of Winter takes you back to a different time with different social rules. Although quite disturbing at times I thoroughly enjoyed it and did not want the story to end.
Jul 18, 2016 Alison rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Brother -Rob , and sister , Cathy, live in crumbling ,farm house with their grandfather. The mother went to live in Europe and the father went slowly mad in front of the eye. Lots of secrets and psychological problems unresolved. There is a really nasty governess who comes to house uninvited and prowls around . Rob and Cathy get very close... They are discovered by the governess and she has to be put forward the seventh by Cathy -but unfortunately drops dead deep in the woods ( or does she?). Ca ...more
Nose in a book (Kate)
Mar 14, 2014 Nose in a book (Kate) rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club
Dunmore is one of those authors I’ve been hearing good things about for years but hadn’t got round to reading, despite her being local and exactly suited to my taste. Which perhaps gives away what I feel about this book!

The story is narrated by Cathy and in a slightly dreamlike nonlinear fashion she tells us how she went from happy child playing endlessly with her brother Rob, to depressed 20-something seemingly living alone in a big old house that’s falling apart. The setting is the early 20th
Jul 04, 2015 Janet rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In 1996 Helen Dunmore was awarded the Orange Prize for this novel and likely that is how it ended up on my 'to-read' list. (The Orange Prize is a UK award given annually to a female author of any nationality for a full-length novel written in English.) I am not sure what I expected (or if I expected anything at all), but this story was a surprise, a good though discomforting one. The story is dark and compelling and disturbing. The characters are complex; their relationships are based on secrets ...more
Shoma Patnaik
This book was such a curate's egg. The writing was lovely, almost tactile. The very first scene in the book stood out right in front of me as I read it, I imagined it all candlelight and winter shadows. Most of the characters are well written and I like the touch of the unreliable narrator that Cathy has.

However, there is little of the promised gothic in this apart from that. Rob is strangely featureless and bland, despite his importance in the story. The second half of the book is where the st
Juhi Davda
May 22, 2016 Juhi Davda rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
yes, of course, Helen Dunmore's style of writing is beautiful and lifelike. some of the scenes are so well written you're pulled into their frame. but that's not enough. the story's horribly dull, insipid and awry. and no matter how hard i tried i just couldn't keep up.

the characters seemed weak and ignorant. for example, the protagonist, Catherine. the way her life was marked out i guess i was supposed to feel sorry for her, but no so surprisingly i didn't. of course you can sympathize for what
Jul 16, 2014 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Back to one of my favourite authors, and a family in turmoil in the early part of the twentieth century. "A Spell of Winter" won the 1996 Orange Prize and therefore it is no surprise that the writing that is so moving. Narrated by Catherine on the verge of womanhood, we explore why, as we are lead to believe in the introduction, she has been left alone.

Sometimes the story of her relationship with her brother, grandfather, governess, housemaid etc. is a little slow, but I found the whole book wh
Dec 31, 2015 Lynn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I can't imagine why Dunmore is not better known in the U.S. Her prose is so beautiful, and she doesn't use more words than necessary. That, in itself, is high praise.

Her characters are also compelling. In this novel, Catherine and Rob have been very badly served by their parents and their grandfather, and so are thrown much together. Complications ensue, and you hope that eventually, they'll be able to break this bond. They do, but in unforeseen ways.

Dunmore also plays with memory in interesting
Dec 22, 2013 Margaret rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This novel, as befits a book often described as 'Gothic', is a disturbing read. Rob and his younger sister, the narrator Cathy, have been abandoned to life in their country house firstly by their mother, who simply went away, and by their father, who became institutionalised. They are in the care of their grandfather, but actually cared for by Kate, their maid, and only friend. The ghastly Miss Gallagher would like to care for Cathy, but Cathy does not care for her. Rob and Cathy, finally, only ...more
Apr 24, 2013 Blair marked it as unsuccessful-attempt  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: orange-prize
Couldn't get into it.
I generally enjoy controversial books, and I heard that this historical fiction included the always controversial plot point of incest. The short version of my review is: it’s amazing how boring a book about incest and WWI can actually be. For the longer version, read on.

The book is told non-linearly in what appears to be an attempt to build suspense. The constant jumping with very few reveals for quite some time, though, just led to my own frustration.

I was similarly frustrated by the fact that
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I was born in December 1952, in Yorkshire, the second of four children. My father was the eldest of twelve, and this extended family has no doubt had a strong influence on my life, as have my own children. In a large family you hear a great many stories. You also come to understand very early that stories hold quite different meanings for different listeners, and can be recast from many viewpoints ...more
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“You have to keep on with a house, day after day, I think. Heating, cleaning, opening and closing windows, making sounds to fill the silence, cooking and washing up, laundering and polishing. As soon as you stop, there may as well never have been any life at all. A house dies as quickly as a body.” 1 likes
“You live in the past,’ Kate said. ‘You live in your grandfather’s time.’ But she was wrong. The past was not something we could live in, because it had nothing to do with life. It was something we lugged about, as heavy as a sack of rotting apples.” 0 likes
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