Steven Langdon's Reviews > The Winter Vault

The Winter Vault by Anne Michaels
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Jul 24, 2011

really liked it

Our summers are spent in boat voyages where reading is a happy part of the escape experience. But this summer had a special flavour as Shirley and I found ourselves reading this fine new novel by Anne Michaels, in the Thousand Islands area of the St. Lawrence River, close to the communities displaced by the Seaway that form a key part of the Michaels context of displacement and despair -- along with communities flooded by the Aswan Dam in Egypt and obliterated in Warsaw by World War Two.

This new novel has many of the virtues of "Fugitive Pieces," the first magnificent novel by Michaels -- fine writing, deft character development and complex interaction amongst these people to drive the plot. Avery, Jean, Marina, Lucjan and his friends -- they keep you deeply involved as they come together and move apart.

Shirley has provided a very positive review of this novel (see her analysis.) And I have given it a high rating, too. Yet, in the end, I found myself questioning this book. In Egypt, thousands of people had their whole livelihood devastated -- in Warsaw, the Jewish community was virtually killed off -- does it make sense to draw a link between these tragedies and the movement of some hundreds in Canada for whom support included in many cases the expensive movement of their actual houses some dozens of miles? Or is there a lack of proportion here that damages this novel at its core? Does that make you wonder if there may be the same lack of proportion in Jean's total rejection of Avery after their potential child is still-born? Their love has seemed so close, yet suddenly he is unable to provide any consolation to her. Is this believable? One wonders . . . even as one reads this beautiful prose.
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