Set in in the years following WWI and framed by the majestic winter austerity of the French Pyrenees, The Winter Ghosts is a small, eerily beautiful...moreSet in in the years following WWI and framed by the majestic winter austerity of the French Pyrenees, The Winter Ghosts is a small, eerily beautiful tale about loss, mourning and redemption. Within its modest number of pages, which easily could (and possibly should) be read in one sitting on a cold winter's night, new life is breathed into fairy tale, history lesson, love story, ghost story and travelogue.
If you've read Mosse before, the setting and even some of the details will be familiar ground, but this spare narrative about a grieving traveler who encounters the ephemeral in a tiny mountain village is unburdened by the complex twists and turns of her longer historical mysteries (which have their own pleasures), and feels strangely timeless, even archetypal. The writing itself is gorgeous, particularly when it comes to sights, smells, even food and fabric -- all the jewel-like details that make one place so very unlike any other. The Winter Ghosts is in fact an almost perfect gem of a book, and one that will no doubt linger at the edges of my mind for a very long time.(less)
Absolutely brilliant. I've never read PD James before, though I know her reputation among mystery buffs is unimpeachable, and of course I've seen the...moreAbsolutely brilliant. I've never read PD James before, though I know her reputation among mystery buffs is unimpeachable, and of course I've seen the film adaptation, which I like very much.
But this novel very different from what I expected . . . there's very little "science" to this science fiction classic; instead I'd call it "philosophy-fiction." The Children of Men shines an unnerving light on the moral lassitude of a race with, quite literally, no future. But in James's vision, it's not the sudden flash-apocalypse of nuclear destruction or viral plague which brings the crisis, but a protracted period of infertility during which humanity has the leisure to contemplate its own pointlessness and existential fear -- and reacts accordingly.
It's a society where senior citizens commit mass suicide in a state-sponsored ritual called the "Quietus"; where the last generation of children (the "Omegas") are treated like spoiled royalty; and where draconian government policies become embraced as part and parcel of giving what remains of society "freedom from fear, freedom from want, and freedom from boredom."
As seen through the eyes of historian and former Oxford don Theo Faren -- "former" because the only educational efforts now are soft courses which keep the population entertained -- it's a world of moral greys, which gradually turn, for him, into black-and-whites when he is approached for help by a former student who is, miraculously, pregnant.
The tale that follows is a subtle morality play, beautifully written and realized. Unlike the film, which has been recast in a more gritty, depressing and obviously "dystopian" light, James's novel, though containing horrors aplenty, also revels in the beauty of an English countryside gone back to nature, focuses on the moral considerations of what it means to be human . . . and holds out the hope that there will always be those among us who will choose the right path rather than the easy one.