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Winter's Tale

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New York City is subsumed in arctic winds, dark nights, and white lights, its life unfolds, for it is an extraordinary hive of the imagination, the greatest house ever built, and nothing exists that can check its vitality. One night in winter, Peter Lake, orphan and master-mechanic, attempts to rob a fortress-like mansion on the Upper West Side.

Though he thinks the house is empty, the daughter of the house is home. Thus begins the love between Peter Lake, a middle-aged Irish burglar, and Beverly Penn, a young girl, who is dying.

Peter Lake, a simple, uneducated man, because of a love that, at first he does not fully understand, is driven to stop time and bring back the dead. His great struggle, in a city ever alight with its own energy and besieged by unprecedented winters, is one of the most beautiful and extraordinary stories of American literature.

769 pages, Paperback

First published September 20, 1983

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About the author

Mark Helprin

39 books1,216 followers
Mark Helprin belongs to no literary school, movement, tendency, or trend. As many have observed and as Time Magazine has phrased it, “He lights his own way.” His three collections of short stories (A Dove of the East and Other Stories, Ellis Island and Other Stories, and The Pacific and Other Stories), six novels (Refiner's Fire, Winter's Tale, A Soldier of the Great War, Memoir From Antproof Case, Freddy and Fredericka and, In Sunlight and In Shadow), and three children's books (Swan Lake, A City in Winter, and The Veil of Snows, all illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg), speak eloquently for themselves and are remarkable throughout for the sustained beauty and power of their language.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 4,346 reviews
Profile Image for Michael J.J. Tiffany.
32 reviews73 followers
January 14, 2022
There are certainly worse works of fiction in existence. But this is the worst book I've actually read. And it could be the worst book you ever read. It's a bad book that gets recommended. That's interesting.

It is written for people who like the sound of language in their head, who want to feel long streams of words washing over them. Judging by the popularity and success of this author, and others like Proulx, there are a lot of those people. But it's a terribly low standard that, in this case, gives us page after page of constructions like this: "Across the river was an eighteenth-century knoll with trees standing upon it like peasant women with arms akimbo, and the spotlight of the sun firing their green tops, while black shadows below suggested a grove of infinite proportions." Disregard the grammar. What makes a tree-covered knoll an 18th century one? Peasant. women. with their hands on their hips and their elbows out? That's what these trees looked like? Groves are, by definition, small; if it looks infinite, don't call it a grove!

I swear I'm not being unfair in my quotation-picking. Before writing this review, I flipped back through the book at random, finding some ludicrous word droppings every time I stopped. Interestingly, you don't need to take my word for it; because this kind of self-indulgence draws attention to itself, Mark Helprin fans post collections of individual sentences as testaments to his greatness. Can you imagine doing that with Steinbeck? Hemingway? Faulkner? Would that be the way to capture their greatness? Ironically, then, Helprin's fans — and many professional critics — like him for the very reasons I think he's awful: the construction of individual sentences draw attention to the sentences themselves (which is particularly convenient if you're writing a newspaper book review), and they are intent on being evocative as an end in itself — a kind of Platonic evocativeness. But evocative of what? Well, what does an eighteenth-century knoll mean to you?
Profile Image for Melki.
5,670 reviews2,324 followers
October 3, 2012
I wasn't planning to read this book again, when my friend Lynn picked it for our October "real life" book club selection. I'd read it in 1985, and while I didn't remember a lot of details, I do remember absolutely loving it. And then it happened...

At the September meeting, the attacks started.

"Well," said one woman, "I almost never give up on a book, but I couldn't take more than a hundred pages of this one. And could somebody please tell me just what the heck a 'cloud wall' is supposed to be?"

"It's so L-O-N-G," said another member.

"I'm about a third of the way through, and I'm not sure I want to finish," whined yet another.

'Wait a minute,' I was thinking. 'I LOVED this book, didn't I? Or was I just young and stupid and idealistic when I read it?'

So, I read it again, and yes - I LOVE THIS BOOK!!! It still casts a spell, and the same things that enthralled me over 25 years ago still gripped.

***New York City, based in reality, yet tinged with fantastical elements and teeming with larger than life characters.
***Winter - cruel and beautiful, pristine and cold enough to freeze rivers and lakes; the ice deep enough for palaces to be built and carnivals to be held on the frozen bodies of water.
***Magic drifting through the book in wispy tendrils, and clouds that form mysterious walls, behind which...who knows?
***Here be legendary lake monsters and flying horses...
***A burglar who follows his heart and becomes a hero.
***A young woman, riddled with consumption, who spends each winter night on the roof, huddled under blankets and furs, all the better to breathe the precious, frigid air.
***A villain mesmerized by color.
***The couple that holds long conversations through paper-thin apartment walls, falling in love before ever laying eyes on one another.

Sounds wonderful, doesn't it?

What's wrong with the women in my book club? True, Lynn and I are the only members who are not grandmothers, but does getting older mean you have to lose your child-like sense of wonder AND imagination? I refuse to go quietly into that dark and dull void where I will be content reading only The Help, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. (Mind you, these are not BAD books, but they are SAFE choices, and what fun is a book club if everyone says, "Yes, I loved the book," then quietly sips their wine?)

So, I will go armed to the book club on the third Wednesday of this month, and I will FIGHT for this book, and argue that we need to read MORE like it! Will I be able to change the hearts and minds of these women so married to their drab tales of marital crisis and family strife? Who knows? (I'll make sure I eat dessert first, just in case they kick me out!)

AND, if you've read this far...here is your reward - quite possibly the best line about books ever written in a book:

The shelf was filled with books that were hard to read, that could devastate and remake one's soul, and that, when they were finished, had a kick like a mule.

Please, fellow readers, don't settle. Look for books that leave you feeling skinned and kicked, ragged, breathless, awake, panting, hungry, and glad to be alive.
Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,290 reviews120k followers
February 3, 2022
The last thing Mrs. Gamely said to her daughter was, “Remember, what we are trying to do in this life is to shatter time and bring back the dead.”
Winter’s Tale is a BIG book. I refer not only to its 748-page length, but to its ambition. It is a big book about big ideas, and it takes some big characters to realize the author’s ambition. There are a few here.

Colin Farrell as …

Peter Lake, the rock on which Mark Helprin builds much of his story, shares his genesis with the likes of Moses and Kal-El, set adrift as an infant in a small craft in New York harbor when his immigrant-wannabe parents are about to be turned away. Foundling Peter is raised by a group known at Baymen, an unusual band that is part deep interior bayou folk and part Native Americans. They inhabit, and work the Bayonne Marsh, a piece of New Jersey visible from New York harbor. His story is the primary character-driven thread here. We see Peter and this world from the beginning of the twentieth century to the turn of the millennium. Peter makes his way from Dickensian street urchin to mechanic to gang-member and burglar, to something grander.

Listo as …

Athansor is a great white horse, the stuff of legends, which comes in handy when there are impossible distances to be leapt and rescues or escapes to be effected. Boy meets horse when this milk-truck equine’s fanciful walkabout through the city is interrupted by his encounter with Peter, who is fleeing for his life from the Short Tails gang and its larger-than-life leader, Pearly Soames. Pearly would like to send Peter to meet his maker with extreme prejudice for a betrayal we will learn about later. Athansor and Peter gallop through this imaginary version of New York, doing things like snatching hats off policemen and dashing through a theater in mid-performance. (A real hoofer on Broadway) If you think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship, you would be right. Hi, ho, Athansor, Away!

Jessica Brown Findlay as …

Beverly Penn is a consumptive 18-year-old (they upped her to 21 for the film) heiress who suffers so from the fever of her condition that she sleeps on the roof in winter in order to cool off. (Cue the Drifters ) She is playing the piano when she is startled, seeing Peter as he is in the process of burglarizing the family home. Having had a vision that something significant would be changing her life, it seems clear to her that the something is the criminal element in her living room. She has other visions as well, visual and auditory perceptions of a reality beyond that of which mere mortals are aware. There are other large figures in the story, and other story lines, but these are the main ones. And the story of Peter and Beverly’s love is balanced by Pearly and Peter’s antipathy.

Russell Crowe as Pearly Soames with his droogies Short Tails

The author is not content to weave a tale around his maybe-doomed lovers, but offers us other couples to tote some of that emotional freight. We meet families at various points in their history. A tot in one section becomes a capitalist scion in another, for example. I will spare you too much plot summary, or a fuller list of characters. Even by my generous standards it would be excessively long. But I have included a link to such a blow-by-blow in the Extra Stuff section if that seems useful. Suffice it to say that in upstate New York there is a Brigadoon-like town known as The Lake of the Coheeries, and some pretty magical things take place there. No, you do not have to wait a hundred years before it appears. It actually does not appear on any maps, but can be accessed if you know how. It is the source for several of our additional characters, and some fabulously creative images. It lies beyond the crucible zone that surrounds the city, substituting a huge hill of ice and snow as a barrier for the white clouds that enclose the city farther south. The town serves as a fairyland version of the country, in the same way that Helprin’s vision of New York City (well, really, Manhattan (His vision of the city offers little for the other four boroughs than a Breughelian image of them as places to avoid.) is a fantastical version of the real place. But all this seems a maguffin for the real business here, which lies in the themes being addressed.

Mark Halperin has written a love song to New York, well, parts of it anyway. There is a stunning lyricism to his descriptions of the city, alive with romantic vision, yet also fueled by a dose of paranoia and class fear. But he is after bigger fish than venting his affection for The Big Apple or whatever nickname might apply in his alternate universe, a whole ocean’s worth. Small matters like free will, the nature of existence, the relationship between the rational and the spiritual, the nature of time, justice, mortality. You know, stuff.

Helprin argues that the spiritual must accompany the rational or the result is a soulless existence.
Well, we've been mechanized. We view ourselves as mechanisms. This is a trend since The Enlightenment. The Enlightenment, in my view, has two streams - a good stream and a bad stream. The good stream is the beauty of reason, to approach something via scientific method, via logic. The ugly part of The Enlightenment is that if you confine yourselves to those methods, then you are limiting yourself in terms of your understanding of what a human soul is. By necessity, because you cannot define the soul as it's not subject to proof, human beings become mechanisms. Without faith, a person is a mechanism, and then there's no reason he shouldn't be treated or work under those assumptions, as a mechanism. - from Contemporary Lit interview
Is there some underlying logic to our universe, machines, physical, psychic or spiritual that whirr, turn and grind to support everything?
“Apart from natural laws, from the world as we know it,” Hardesty speculated, “maybe there are laws of organization which bind us to patterns that we can’t see and to tasks that we don’t perceive.”
And Helprin takes a long view of things
“Churchmen,” she had said, “like Boissy d’Anglas, burn themselves up in seeking, and they find nothing. If your faith is genuine, then you meet your responsibilities, fulfill your obligations, and wait until you are found. It will come. If not to you, then to your children, and if not to them, then to their children.”
Helprin posits a world or worlds in which the select few can see and access an underlying reality, and it is not clear that there is a path to this understanding other than dumb luck. One must wonder if the writers of The Matrix or promoters of born-again-isms had Helprin in mind.
her strength was not derived from things which can be catalogued or reasonably discussed. She had an inexplicable lucidity, a power to see things for what they were. Somehow she had come into possession of a pure standard. It was as if lightning had struck the ground in front of her and had been frozen and prolonged until she could see along its bright and transparent shaft all the way to its absolute source.
No, this is not taken from the Left Behind series and Bev was not bitten by an irradiated spider.

Brooklyn Bridge and God

The city as crucible, which we first see from a god-like view, looking down, is surrounded by an enormous and deitifically powerful white cloud. Unlike the low-hanging clouds in real NYC, which can make building tops appear to vanish when they pass through, this white cloud can actually take the things it touches. It makes the city into an almost-closed system that will experience both the deadly cold of extreme winter and intense heat from another source.
“…these winters have not been for nothing. They are the plough. The wind and the stars are harrowing the land and battering the city. I feel it and can see it in everything. The animals know it is coming. The ships in the harbor rush about and have come alive because it is coming. I may be dead wrong but I do believe that every act has significance, and that, in our time, all the ceaseless thunder is not for nothing.”
There is the potential for greatness in cities, this one in particular, but there must be a blood-letting in order to usher in a new golden age, and that seems perfectly fine for the god of this novel.

The notion of justice also comes in for considerable attention. Peter’s first craft is named “City of Justice.” Jackson Mead, a builder of bridges, says, “My purpose, in one word, is justice.” A significant silver tray that Hardesty Marratta (a significant character) cherishes in inscribed thus: “For what can be imagined more than the sight of a perfectly just city rejoicing in justice alone.” Peter engages in a quest for justice as well. In a passage about time, justice gets the final word
The universe is still and complete. Everything that ever was, is; everything that ever will be, is—and so on, in all possible combinations. Though in perceiving it we imagine that it is in motion, and unfinished, it is quite finished and quite astonishingly beautiful. In the end, or, rather, as things really are, any event, no matter how small, is intimately and sensibly tied to all others. All the lost ones are redeemed; the dead come back to life; the perfectly blue days that have begun and ended in golden dimness continue, immobile and accessible; and, when all is perceived in such a way as to obviate time, justice becomes apparent not as something that will be, but as something that is.
And it’s just tough luck on those who fall afoul of the currents of time. If you are rich, then I guess you were meant to be, and if you were dirt poor, well, sorry, it was always thus. It does strike me that this is a point of view that might be favored by those who have landed in the cushier seats.

Be careful where you step. You may bump into another image. Gates figure large here. Both the literal gates that surround the Battery in lower Manhattan and a set of four psychic gates that cities are supposed to have, (resonating with the four parts of the novel) visible, of course, only to people who are very, very special. Color figures large. Pearly (whose name certainly reflects the seasonal milieu) is deeply affected by color and seeks it out by whatever means possible.
But, whereas the wall was white, the city was a palette of upwelling colors. Its forms and geometry entranced him—the orange blaze in clear upper windows; a gas lamp’s green and white bell-like glare; leaping tongues of fire; red-hot booming chambers in the charcoal; shoe-black horses trotting airily at the head of varnished carriages; peaked and triangular roofs; the ballet of the crowds as they took stairs, turned corners, and forged across streets; the guttural noise of machinery…sails that filled the ends of streets with billows of white or sharp angular planes, and then collapsed into the bordering buildings or made of themselves a guillotine
Blue and gold come in for particular and much-repeated attention. Stars shine brightly here as well, whether the actual universe of stars or their simulacra in a large chamber or a magical painting. Bridges and rainbows carry significance as well. Machines are also more than mere mechanisms.

Mark Helprin - image from NPR

In case you did not know, Helprin is a political sort, a conservative true believer who writes speeches for Republican leaders. His particular sensibilities enter here as well, as he offers the odd diatribe on how any sort of public assistance is a form of satanic temptation, leading good people astray and allowing bad people to milk the rest of us to support what is portrayed as a life of low leisure. He also has a vision of wide swaths of the lower classes as being purely bent on destruction, as if the race riots of the 60s had burned a hole in his vision and he was forced thereafter to see everything in the world through those altered lenses. It gets intrusive at times. At least he has the decency to balance his Ayn Randish laudatory portrayal of one mogul with an equally dark one of another (a Rupert Murdoch stand-in). And he does offer an interesting proposal for an ideal way to organize a company that speaks to a need for fairness, but which would never be tolerated in the real world by those whose mission it is to absorb ALL the wealth. He also harbors a view of criminality that is, to say the least, eccentric. That said, the political aspect, while present and occasionally toxic, could have been a lot worse.

In Sum
What is impressive about Winter’s Tale is the sheer volume of creativity on display here. His portrayal of a Dickensian sort of steam-punk New York was fascinating and effective. The Lake of the Coheeries is very effectively magical. But just as it is wonderful to enjoy a slice of cake, it can become a different sort of experience if one were to try devouring the entire thing. So it is here, a case of creativity run amok. The author wanders off. For example, after we have invested in Peter, Beverly and Athansor, Helprin sets them aside for almost two hundred pages to play in some other snow fields. Really? Helprin is at his weakest when attempting a sort-of slapstick humor. Those bits fall very, very flat. As do sections where a character acquires otherworldly powers. And Athansor’s propensity for arriving in the nick of time to save this or that one makes one wonder if he might have been a sort of deity made by one of the many machines that populate the story. If you have not yet read Winter’s Tale, prepare to make a special effort to keep track of the characters. There are many. And, oh yeah, lest you think the opening quote was purely gratuitous, there are resurrections here. Helprin is definitely thinking BIG.

You may find Winter’s Tale exhilarating and you may find it exhausting. You may feel enlarged by the beauty of the imagery and reduced by the occasional mean-spiritedness manifested by the author. You may feel intellectually stimulated by the grand notions portrayed, but deadened by the familiar trope of access being reserved only to the elect. You may feel deeply at the poetry of Helprin’s descriptions, (they certainly sing to me in my love for my home town) but may experience frustration that he takes so bloody long to get to the point. Winter’s Tale may leave you cold, or it may warm you to unimagined possibilities. But whether your reaction is pain, exultation or both, you will definitely react. Winter’s Tale has been called one of the 25 greatest American novels of the 20th Century. I do not agree, but I can see why some people think that. It is pretty clear that it is one of the most ambitious. I believe it would have been a better book with a tighter focus and about two hundred or so fewer pages. But, even though I have issues with the book I do believe that it is well worth reading. Winter’s Tale may not have completely warmed the cockles of my reader’s heart, but it is still pretty chill.

Posted February 28, 2014

=============================EXTRA STUFF

Interview with MH in The Paris Review and in Contemporarylit.com – This the source of the quote from the author used in the review

This review in the Thriving Family web site contains a detailed run through of the events of the book and a look at some of the imagery

Oopsy. I used an incorrect image for Mark Helprin when putting together this review. A helpful GR reader noted the error and a correction has been made. But you might prefer the image of actor Edward Fox that was used in error. I know I do.
Mark Helprin (ok, ok, really Edward Fox) as a white walker

A film was made of the book, released in 2014. While it completely lacks the grandness of the novel, I still found it enjoyable. Colin Farrell was fine in the lead, Russell Crowe perfect as Pearly Soames, and Jessica Finley very appealing as the ethereal Beverly. It will remind you of elements of the book without at all capturing the larger vision.
Profile Image for Helena.
16 reviews104 followers
April 8, 2007
"Ulysses" is the most important book in my life. "Winter's Tale" is my favorite. If "Ulysses" is like that boyfriend/girlfriend with whom you're Totaly Fucking In Love, and with whom you constantly fight, and break up, and get back together, and cheat on or get cheated on by, and break up with again, and get back together with again, and sit in your car outside their house listening to Fall Out Boy and crying and about whom you talk incessantly to your friends about what an Impossible Heartless Pointless Slutty Asshole they are and then light up like a schoolchild on Christmas morning when you get a text message from them, then "Winter's Tale" is like the best friend who you kind of secretly want to marry one day.

"Winter's Tale" is an 800 [give or take] page metaphysical fairy tale about a fictionalized New York City. Its extremely historical and should appeal anyone who, like me, is a geek for anything about the history of Manhattan--particularly in the sections set amongst the gang wars in the five points neighborhood in the mid nineteenth century--and yet, at the same time, the universe in which the book dwells is just slightly removed from ours, a magic realist retelling of the history of New York [and, by extension, America]. It follows an extraordinarily skilled grand larcenist named Peter Lake, who may or may not in fact be immortal, and through his experience, and the experience of an ever-widening web of those associated to him by degrees, builds a mythology of and for the city in which it is set.
The prose is dense and luxurious, as is the semi-dickensian plotline (There are at least 15 characters who could each support an entire book of their own. I guarantee you will fall in love with SOMEONE depicted in this novel). Unlike many modern authors, who seem to be operating on the assumption that the fewer words you use, the cooler you'll be, Helrpin writes phrases, sentences, and paragraphs like gourmet meals. There are moments in this book so good that they make the reader forget to breathe. It is one of the best literary adventures I've yet had.

Also, I used to own 5 copies of this book, and I currently known none. If you have my copy of "Winter's Tale," please return it, won't you?
Profile Image for Bart.
Author 1 book103 followers
July 8, 2008
If it’s possible for a novel to establish its author as a good writer but a poor novelist, Winter’s Tale might be the book to do it. Helprin has great talent for description, good talent for language, remedial talent for storytelling and almost nothing that resembles perspective.

There’s a passage somewhere between pages 600 and 700 where Helprin goes hog wild in his description of the opening shot of a billiards game. The spheres are crashing and the green felt is cowering and the angles are all aligning – and it comes pretty close to being squirmingly bad, a moment when one feels a bit embarrassed for the author. What makes it important to an analysis of Helprin’s work is that it shows that for Helprin words are really the only important elements of writing; that is, the ideas they express are accidental results of the sounds they make and the ephemeral effects they have.

There is a pretty rich story here, though, sometimes. Peter Lake is a likable character, and his romance with Beverly Penn is an intriguing and touching one.

But then we put Mr. Lake away for a long time – more than half this enormous novel – and describe and describe and describe. The rest of the characters, however cleverly named, all look the same. There are some of Thomas Pynchon’s lamentable tricks – including a set of employees named after books in an encyclopedia set – and for a while Helprin seems to dabble in hyper realism. And those detours add up to approximately 350 pages (a full novel, in other words) that a reader regrets suffering through by the end.

Ah, the end. One begins hoping, round about page 500, that the end will explain all the numbing detail and description one has endured and is yet to endure. But the end does nothing of the sort. Helprin can’t seem to figure out how to end the novel, actually. Is the novel about Peter Lake? is it about a giant white horse? is it about a villainous gang? is it about New York City? Yes, yes, yes! No, not quite.

The novel is about love. In fact, the epilogue of this massive work finds the author helpfully instructing the reader to look inside his heart to figure out what the novel is about. For those readers who are annoyed by Tolstoy’s philosophy-of-history lecture at the end of War and Peace, Helprin holds a familiar treat. After almost 800 pages, he feels compelled to do a little summarizing. He even asks the reader if she remembers some of the characters from a month or so back. And the reader responds, understandably aloud, “No, I don’t!”

Were this novel 400 pages long, and concerned only with the Peter Lake and Beverly Penn characters, it would be recommendable. But at its actual length, finally, it asks too much of the reader and reciprocates too little.
Profile Image for Vit Babenco.
1,397 reviews3,277 followers
February 12, 2022
Winter’s Tale is written in the language of wizardry in the style of magic and it belongs to magical reality where everything becomes surreal at the slightest touch of a quill.
The city exploded upon him, bursting through the ring of white shells that crowned his head. He staggered about the fire and tumult of Broadway and the Bowery, not understanding everything he saw. For instance, a man turned a handle on a box, and music came out, while a small being, half-animal and half-man, danced about on the street and collected things in his hat.

Poetry of the city… Music of the streets… Charms of youth… Sorcery of love…
They gave themselves up to the stars the way swimmers can surrender to the waves, and the stars took them without resistance.

The witchcraft of love turns winter into a fairytale and town noises become music of the spheres.
Profile Image for Derek.
123 reviews1 follower
September 14, 2007
Flowery and ultimately meaningless

There are many beautifully descriptive passages, mostly of the wind & snow; the best are those concerning the magical horse Althansor. Unfortunately, there are many of them, and I found my heart beginning to sink whenever another chapter began with another beautifully descriptive passage about the wind & snow.

I never did discover a plot. The human characters came and went without any real impact, either on the story or on me, although the magical horse is characterized probably better than most. Peter Lake does span the whole novel, but he spends the final part in a daze of incomprehension which I shared. The occasional moments of drama all resolved easily and without any great surprises.

I was irritated by the wholesale dismissal of non-central characters, but it seemed I was expected to believe in the city (I am reluctant to call it New York because it is obviously not a real place) and care what happened to it.

In the end, I felt no attachment to the city, and it seemed, finally, that the author didn't either.
Profile Image for Chaitra.
3,298 reviews
February 4, 2013
Wow. This is the worst magical realism book I've ever read, and I've read Salman Rushdie's Fury. Bottom line is that I don't mind crap, but I do mind deadly dull crap. Everything happens without much point, even within the universe of the book. Why would a super idealistic newspaper run a column entitled The Mayor Looks Like an Egg. Period.? Why is it that the one horrid person in the universe is a complete buffoon? What was the point of the horse other than a deus ex machina? Why did the little girl die in the first place? What is the point of her coming back to life? Why did we hear about Beverly's so called prophecy of the little girl in the last 50 pages of the book? And worst of all, why is there that complete copout of for what happened to Peter Lake, it must be left to the reader's imagination? My imagination's pretty strong, I could have imagined what happened to him about 500 pages before it was actually asked of me. Such a pointless waste of time.


I'm going to make an exception and write a review even before I'm done with it, because I'm not sure I'll remember or even want to when I'm done with it. I can't remember where I read it, but I did I swear, that Mark Helprin did not consider Winter's Tale to be Magical Realism. In fact, I remember him being downright snooty about the kind of fiction that came from South America. He's right. No matter what criticism you can level at One Hundred Days of Solitude, the one thing you cannot say is that it's incoherent. The magic there works in conjunction with the story, and does not stick out like some sore thumb.

What is he telling with this story? If winter was a tree, this would be a Terrence Malick movie. Characters are not half well described as the beloved snow drifts and some weird cloud wall that may or may not surround New York. In fact, the characters could be replaced by a piece of cardboard and we would not know the difference. These are not people, they are types. How many people will fall in love as soon as they see a person? How many times will Helprin insist that this is "true love"? How can such purity sustain itself? It's not the only pure concept either. I mean, how many times are we going to get beaten on the head with there is nothing more beautiful than the sight of a just city rejoicing in justice alone? Alright, we get it. There's no need to have every character repeat the blathering. Does he think that if it's repeated often enough it will become true?

The women of this thing deserve their own paragraph. Beverly, the first one is an impossible character to exist. She's too beautiful to exist, but exist she does. Animals in the stars talk to her as she lies in the specially made rooftop room, and she writes down equations explaining the workings of the universe. She makes things happen. The most villainous of people turns into mush (well, he sleeps) when she's around. And if this isn't enough, she's dying. By consumption. The one disease that enhances beauty rather than ravaging it. She's unspoiled before she hops into bed with a thief and a stranger, for no other reason than she's horny. But this is true love.

Then there is Virginia. Not as impossibly beautiful as Beverly (seriously there's no match for her), but still perfect. Add to that she talks like a lexicologist at a seminar which I found mind numbing, but what do I know. The people who she talks to are so dazzled by her sparkling conversation that they end up giving her a job starting yesterday as a columnist no less. But she, being oh so very humble decides to start from the bottom. She has this lovely attribute of dreaming the future. So far, she's seen nothing that is bad for her. Also, she has some random stranger fall in love with her instantly (see the theme?) and nicely for her he's young, handsome, and believes her crazy fantasies. True love.

Edit after page 373. More random people falling in love, this time via a wall. And of course when they finally meet, the girl is beautiful and the man not bad at all. What is the purpose of introducing so many characters I wonder, other than to make them fall in love with each other? More about the horse, which to me doesn't serve any purpose other than rescuing Peter Lake whenever Pearly Soames corners him. Why is it even there? And I find it hilarious that there is a character in the book who talks like she is raping the dictionary. Why, that is exactly how I feel about Helprin when I run into an endless description of snow.
Profile Image for Violet wells.
433 reviews2,955 followers
September 8, 2018
I've got little chance of meeting my reading challenge this year because I keep reading books that weigh more than I do. This one runs to almost 750 pages. On the back cover someone refers to it as a gifted writer's love affair with language, which perhaps is a polite way of saying it's a very self-indulgent novel. Essentially, it's a writer with prodigious resources of vitality and mental agility enjoying himself. I won't attempt to outline the plot because, at best, I only half understood it. It's a kind of alternative history of New York bristling with whimsy - flying horses and psychopathic dwarfs in fancy dress - and rather half-baked philosophy. But for all that it is enjoyable. Principally because Helprin writes so well. You always see, hear, smell what he describes. The visuals are often fabulous with many memorable images but it's perhaps a novel of brilliant setpieces rather than one of compelling narrative drive and consistency. This partly due to the excessive number of characters, all of whom fall a little short of being riveting. At times Helprin reminds me of David Mitchell, the mischief and vitality, though the former's humour is less sophisticated. The novel contains a fair few gratuitous comic sketches, few of which worked for me. I'd rate it at about 3.7 stars.
Profile Image for Cristin.
105 reviews205 followers
August 19, 2008
So what if Helprin's political views make me want to spew in the nearest barf receptacle? He created Peter Lake, and I don't care about much else.

This is an intense example of magical realism. At times, the reader must willingly suspend his or her disbelief until the very notion of disbelief is shot straight to hell. Still, it is about the journey Helprin takes us on--not the destination we anticipate at the beginning of the story.

Meet Peter Lake: a middle aged, exceedingly clever burglar who is brought into the world under extraordinary circumstances...the rest of his unimaginably incredible life is, in essence, comprised of one miracle after another, until your brain is dangerously close to bursting and your eyes are brimming at the mere thought of him. He's kind of a riot, and possesses an Irish (you'll come to find that while he's not an authentic Irishman, he owns the title for a reason) wit that is inexhaustible, though not overstated.

Peter falls madly in love with Beverly Penn, a beautiful, frail young woman who (despite her few years on Earth) displays the wisdom and sensitivity of someone five times her age...She's almost unearthly, and her love for Peter Lake is like an infinitely blazing star, or rather, a universe of infinitesimal blazing stars that are perpetually waltzing about to a piano...playing softly. Their love story, which is the focus of the first half of this beast of a book, will undoubtedly consume you, much like Life consumed Beverly Penn.

Throughout the majority of the book, Peter Lake is running from the relentless pursuits of the morally corrupt, vacuous band of thieves known as the Short Tails. Lead by the infamous, electric, Pearly Soames, the Short Tails will stop at nothing to end Peter Lake. Fortunately, Peter Lake has a sort of guardian angel in the form of Athansor, the white horse. I’ll save more explanation and mention only that many of the scenes that feature Athansor made me cry–not from sadness, but from appreciation for his sheer beauty.

The rest of the story is far too complex to attempt to explain. Helprin is certainly erudite, among other things...At times, I actually began to shake my head while reading, thinking: “Well, now this bastard is just showing off!” His prose is dense and lyrical, and at times it seems almost magical. How a person so stubbornly conservative can produce work like this is beyond me. Forgive me. I’m prejudiced against conservatives (although I was in a rather intense relationship with one at one time...opposites attract, I guess). I do not mean to suggest that conservatives can’t make first rate artists...or do I?

I just don’t understand how 748 pages of passion could come pouring out of Helprin like some crazy love lava...if the source is, well...So stuffy!

Still, I’m making assumptions, which always makes an ass of me. Here are some of my favorite excerpts from "Winter’s Tale" (aptly named after Shakespeare's play "The Winter's Tale", in which people disappear for long stretches of time and later reveal themselves to be bursting with life). I’ll let the words work their own magic, and quit blundering about with my own clumsy, ham-fisted words.

"There were small shrines and forgotten places that were for Peter Lake like the roadside altars of the Alps---an old doorway lost in shadow and peeling paint, a cemetery tucked between monstrous buildings (though a hundred thousand people might pass in a day, very likely not one turned his head to look in, or hesitated to read an inscription or a name), hidden gardens, house fronts, meaningful views down strangely crooked streets, places that seemed to harbor an invisible presence."

"It was something that he could understand only with the gifts that come of early morning--- one of those things, like a dream, that one cannot always piece together again to remember and feel in sunlight and day. And yet enough early risings and enough work of heart and memory will bring it, half alive, from unfamiliar depths, like a slowly panting fish, hauled on deck, with fading eyes that beg for the sea."

Pretty friggin' awesome, huh?
Profile Image for Courtney.
1 review15 followers
January 10, 2008
Wow. This book is magic. And I do not mean it is "magical" to read, but that literally it contains magic.

Let me start by stressing that this novel is for READERS. Not people who say they like to read but only do so occasionally or lightly. Or even those who do delve into many wonderful works but only when the stars are aligned. This is a rewarding and wondrous book for those who will actually take time for it and really get lost inside. If you are not that kind of person, than maybe you should pick something else b/c otherwise you may grow tired, try to force through it, steamroll along, missing the point, the wonder, the magic. This book deserves more than that.

When I first began, I was a little thrown off by the style and the story itself, but soon I was caught inside and it was wonderful. I read all the time and very, very seldom do I find myself so completely wrapped up in a book, a story so intense and incredible that I feel both protective and proud of the text, the characters, everything.

To sum up: I loved this book! It did an excellent job of allowing the reader to lose themselves in its pages. Great story, great characters, unique writing, a great journey.
Profile Image for J..
455 reviews180 followers
March 6, 2012
In a certain now-distant era in the vestibules of verbiage, a diamond-dusted nor'easter came brightly brushing, softly sifting, sewing the perspectives, peripheries and promenades ... with perilously prolix page-counts .. that persisted then, all along the gridded avenues of the grandest city that Time had surely ever decreed.

It was the City Of Books, and this was the kind of book, nay, the Very Kind and most-principal example, that was written then, and by rights most highly regarded by the Reading Citizenry to deck the halls and paper the walls.

But --more than- enough, of sounding like the book. Let's talk about what it is. Like other novels of its era it wants to use Magical Realism as a way to bookend the harshly realistic with the presumably magical and oh-so-twee -- in order to produce a third kind of reality.

It wants to be a Myth. It wants to reach beyond the stars, beyond the conventions of fictional narrative, beyond plausibility, to be that myth. Like other novels of its era it uses outlandishly cartoonish character names to produce cartoonish characters, and cares little for setting up narrative structures that produce narrative results. And that's because it wants more than any of those kinds of "believable" or "credible" outcomes. It wants to be the myth; it wants, as far as I can tell, to be some kind of new-age Bible.

This was a late-in-the-day reading for me, of a novel that had been praised to the heavens by many of my contemporaries during and since the era when it was first published. Many glowing reviews were written, by actual professionals, real reviewers -- and many a copy was sold. I got this for a dollar at my public library's sale table, and in the spirit of the book, I'd say that was about twice, nay, well and truly many-fold as much ... as I should have paid.

Skip this one, no matter what they tell you.

Profile Image for Maciek.
558 reviews3,271 followers
November 3, 2014
Winter's Tale held the promise of being a book that I would have loved: a fantastical novel set in a New York City of the Belle Epoque but in some alternate universe with perpetual winters, with a large cast of characters and a love story at its core. I really looked forward to reading it, and was actually excited at the prospect of immersing myself into the world that Mark Helprin created, and losing hours for the story that he told, reading deep into the night. This year the novel was finally adapted into a movie - I decided that I could wait no longer and dove right in. I am sad to say that I was wrong - and that ith each passing page initial enthusiasm that I had for the book waned, and as I was nearing the end it disappeared altogether.

Winter's Tale is a mess - it's a long book (almost 800 pages in its most recent edition), and throughout all that length I could never find a real story that it wanted to tell. Ostensibly it's the story of Peter Lake, an orphan and professional thief of mysterious past and his whimsical and serious adventures in a magical New York City. But Peter is not a character, but a caricature - His charm is endless and he can always get out of seemingly inescapable trouble at the last second; almost exactly like the Road Runner. Peter Lake's (as Mark Helprin insist on always refering to him by both names) nemesis and former boss, Pearly Soames, isn't much better - he's the literary equivalent of Bluto from Popeye: oversized, dumb and determined to murder Lake as vengeance for slipping from his grasp. Pearly is also the leader of a gang of burglars to which Peter belonged for a time, called the Short Tails - named after a real gang which terrorized New York's Lower East Side during the Gilded Age, but in the novel serving merely as props to display fear of Pearly and his enormous physical power.

Perhaps the largest offense of the novel is the love story, which makes absolutely no sense. Early in the novel Peter Lake breaks into an luxurious apartment, where for no reason a girl falls in love with him at first sight (I'd call it the Lake Syndrome). Beverly Penn is her name, and she is perfect - hopelessly beautiful, a visionary who can read the universe and write down complex equations which explain its mechanisms. People are changed for the better when they are around her, and even evil villains stop being evil; and she's also - you guessed it - a virgin! Still shrink-wrapped, ready for a Prince Charming. She's also dying. But from tuberculosis - nothing which would spoil her beauty and perfection too much. Isn't it just dandy that a charming, handsome, young and total stranger just happens to break into her house so that both can experience True Love - immediately?

Beverly eventually dies off-screen, and the book loses what little focus it had. Characters come and go without much impact on whatever events are going on, random people fall in love with random people, and we're never sure what the novel is actually supposed to be about. There is also an actual flying horse named Athansor, who serves no real purpose other than getting Peter Lake out of completely impossible situations. To make it worse, Mark Helprin is one of those authors who love hearing their own voices, and relentlessly drags every little description to make it as evocative and poetic as he possibly can, being less and less aware of this self-indulgence as the novel progresses. This is a book which desperately needed an editor, but somehow never got one. Or worse - this is an actual edited book, and somewhere in the universe still exists the original manuscript of Winter's Tale, three times as long.

This is a book which is clearly aware of the fact that it's at least partly a fantasy, but wanted to be more than that. By having cartoonish characters with outlandish names participate in impossible adventures, affairs and conflicts, it wanted to transmit some grand Greater Truths in a eloquent and poetic style; but in its attempts at doing so it becomes nothing more than a parody of itself, and a bad one at that since its written in utter seriousness. Consider the following passages:

How can this be? If nothing is random, and everything is predetermined, how can there be free will? The answer to that is simple. Nothing is predetermined; it is determined, or was determined, or will be determined.

Time, however, can be easily overcome; not by chasing the light, but by standing back far enough to see it all at once. The universe is still and complete. Everything that ever was, is; everything that ever will be, is – and so on, in all possible combinations. Though in perceiving it we imagine that it is in motion, and unfinished, it is quite finished and quite astonishingly beautiful. In the end, or, rather, as things really are, any event, no matter how small, is intimately and sensibly tied to all others.

Is it just me, or is Mark Helprin constantly trying to sound profound rather than to make actual sense? The book is full of such idiosyncratic truisms, trying to blind the reader with its succession of endless images of snow and winter and lure him into believing that they're experiencing a truly lyrical moment. But the ploy becomes obvious here, as Helprin begins to engage in tautologies and things which sound good but simply make no actual sense:

All rivers run full to the sea; those who are apart are brought together; the lost ones are redeemed; the dead come back to life; the perfectly blue days that have begun and ended in golden dimness continue, immobile and accessible; and, when all is perceived in such a way as to obviate time, justice becomes apparent not as something that will be, but as something that is.

This is the kind of baroque writing which at a glance might look powerful and memorable, but at a closer inspection turns out to be nothing more than a sham, a fake, a construction verbs and nouns with some adjectives thrown into it for no reason other than to attract with empty glitter. Kind of like people building stylish turrets, gates and columns into their McMansions - they think they make them look fabulous but in reality it's just dumb.

There's never any real sense of arriving somewhere and learning something important and unique. The book never shakes off its internal confusion and decides what it wants to be and where it wants to go, and ultimately fails to leave any mark. An Amazon reviewer summed it best by stating that "the characters are not and never will be us, and the tale illuminates nothing of essence" - and I'd rather eat a barrel of snow than read it again. What a missed opportunity.

Profile Image for Rachel.
35 reviews6 followers
February 5, 2008
I feel like it took twelvty hundred years to get through this book. I snowplowed (reference intentional) my way through it, refusing to let its length and byzantine density conquer me, which is most likely why I'm disappointed and annoyed. And tired.

To be fair, when Helprin isn't waxing lyrical about 1) snow 2) justice 3) urban planning, the plot chugs along, the fantasy is enchanting, the jokes are funny, and the characters are delightfully anachronistic -- and not just the ones who are quite literally time-jumpers. It's the first book I've read that's accurately nailed that feeling I sometimes have that I'd've been more at home living in another century entirely.

Now, I often mistakenly assign dense, lofty writing to the "he/she must be smarter than me" category, but I don't think you can mistake Helprin's interminable, repetitive exploration of absolutes for anything other than woeful lack of editing. Also, I hate absolutes. The concept of a "pure" anything is, to me, dangerous and foolhardy, and Helprin dwells on two big ones -- justice and love -- until they're as abstracted and unwieldy as they can possibly be, and no payoff could possibly equal the gigantic build-up.

And really, despite what anyone says about the Eskimos, there are probably only about four or five ways you can describe snow without becoming a droning bore.

All that being said, the book does reach some great heights, and it's usually in the simpler, plot-driven parts. The rescue of the Polaris by the Coheeries inhabitants? Absolutely lovely. And it only took ten pages!

Profile Image for Diane.
1,080 reviews2,631 followers
January 19, 2016
I couldn't finish this. I know a lot of people loved it, but it just wasn't for me. I thought it was a turgid mess of cutesiness and magical realism, and I was rolling my eyes so much I finally had to stop. Maybe you will like it more.
Profile Image for Brendan Monroe.
569 reviews149 followers
December 17, 2019
Christmas is right around the corner, but I have to confess that I’m just not feeling it this year. I’m not sure why, but perhaps some holiday reading would help?

That’s what I thought I was getting with this, but I have to confess that “Winter’s Tale” (why no article?) is the literary equivalent of a date with a crazy person. Don’t believe me? I’ll set the scene.

You arrive and immediately realize this was a bad idea, because while you’ve only just sat down they’re already on about how cute their sister’s new baby is — or was it her pet corgi? — and, oh, don’t you want to see a photo? No, no you don’t want to see a photo. But you’re polite, you don’t say that, you just continue sitting there, sipping your lukewarm water, shredding a napkin between your fingers, willing the hours to tick by faster. Then they start telling you how they love to masturbate between the pages of their favorite novel.

“What’s the novel?” You ask, suddenly interested.

“Winter’s Tale!” they say.

“Without an article?” you ask, aghast.

“Just read it,” they say “and tell me you don’t love it!”

So you pick it up at a bookshop on the way home, believing that a person’s recommended book says more about them than they ever could. You get home, heat up some cocoa, and start reading.

It’s not soon before you’re wishing, “oh, if only the pages really were stuck together! Whatever it takes so I don’t have to read another horribly written page!”

But they’re not. So you keep reading because you’re only 30 pages in. Then 40. Then 50. Then … wait. How long are you supposed to keep reading before you call it quits and vow never to see that person again?

Yes, this is THAT book. The one that people rave about endlessly like it saved them from suicide in the middle of a dreary night, and all you can think about is how you would have been spared your own “Winter’s Tale” fueled desire to kill yourself if they had just done it in the first place.

“Winter’s Tale”? As in, the story OF winter? The arrogance!

If this is really going to try and stake a claim to being the definitive tale of old man winter, than I say bring on global warming!

So what is this story actually about? Well, this is what I gathered from the first 50 pages or so, before I decided to warm myself up by tossing the book into the fireplace.

1. There’s a guy named Peter. Lake. Yes, Peter Lake. Like a large body of water. Anyway, Peter’s parents are immigrants who, we’re told, were rejected entry into the U.S. (and they weren’t even Muslim!) but, instead of packing up and heading back to wherever they came from, they set their son adrift in a little basket (or something) off the side of the ship they came in on. You know, because they think it would be best if their baby son grows up on his own in a big foreign city.

Instead of washing up in New York, though, where all foreigners long to land, the tides bear young Peter to some fantastical marsh lands around New Jersey or something (poor bastard) where his destiny is to be a Moses to the marsh people.

2. There’s a white horse. The story is initially told from the horse’s point of view, but it shifts after about 10 pages, never to return (at least, not before I stopped reading). That’s a pity because this horse is magical or something. Like a pegasus without wings, or that god thingy in “The Neverending Story”. On my book cover it’s shown flying over the title … perhaps it made off with the missing “A”.

3. There’s a villain named Pearly who heads a menacing gang called the “short tails”. If that doesn’t have you quaking in your boots, the revelation that Pearly is obsessed with shiny objects, like a goddamn magpie or something, might. He’s got a particular longing for gold, not because it’s valuable, but because it’s shiny. He wants to make a room out of the stuff. In his quest to do so he hatches a plot to steal lots of gold from an armored ship. He tells his gang this while in their usual meeting place, an underground, currently non-golden room in a tunnel of the New York sewer system.

In case you missed it that Pearly really, really likes gold (why not pearls?) we have this explanation:

“Pearly Soames wanted gold and silver, but not, in the way of common thieves, for wealth. He wanted them because they shone and were pure. Strange, afflicted, and deformed, he sought a cure in the abstract relation of colors. But though he was drawn to fine and intense color, he was no connoisseur. Connoisseurs of paintings were curiously indifferent about color itself, and were seldom possessed by it … Not Pearly. Pearly’s attraction to color was like an infection, or religion, and he came to it each time a starving man. Sometimes, on the street or sailing along in a fast skiff, he would witness the sun’s illumination of color that was given (like almost everything else in New York) a short and promiscuous embrace. Pearly always stopped, and if he froze in the middle of the street, traffic was forced to weave around him. Or, if he were on a boat, he turned it to the wind and stayed with the color for as long as it lasted.”

Doesn’t that make you just go all soft for Pearly? What a romantic! “Chasing sunsets in my boat, wherever the wind takes me, because I need colors like I need an infection contracted from a promiscuous embrace!” And this all before the days of e-harmony and Match.com.

Now, if that’s the kind of writing you enjoy, you’ll be thrilled to know that “Winter’s Tale” is chock full of it! Over 600 pages worth to be exact!

But, alas, I fear it’s not for me.

“Winter’s Tale” belongs to “The English Patient” school of writing. Which is to say, a school for people who like to read words because they like the way words look on a page, not because they like what words mean. They desire to inject words into their pretentious little veins and get high on them, yet remain numbed to their meaning. And there are many, many, MANY words here to get high on. They mean nothing, and the way they are used and overused is so “high-brow American lit” it appears the brows aren’t even there but have run off with your nose, which is why you can’t tell that this thing stinks to high heaven.

“Winter’s Tale” is clearly the result of a New York wet dream Mark Halprin had. I’ve read my fair share of erotica, but I have never read anything as perverse, as degrading, as rapey, as Mark Halprin’s treatment of New York here. If this had been written about a woman, she’d be crying #MeToo into the pages.

Every character, even that magical horse-dog from “The Neverending Story”, has a line about how much they love not just New York, but Manhattan in particular. They’re about as Woody Allen on Manhattan as Woody Allen is on his stepdaughter.

Oh, I can’t stay away, the horse thinks, that’s why I’m so willing to break out of my owner’s barn. Simply strutting the streets of Manhattan in my horsey way makes it worth the beating that I’m sure to get when I return!

Peter Lake, too, is willing to risk life and limb — leaving the protection of the marsh people and the, ahem, “cloud gate” — to go to Manhattan. And of course we know Pearly loves it — he’s using the city sewers as his office!

A film adaptation of “Winter’s Tale” came out some years ago starring Colin Farrell to terrible reviews and an anemic box office. Perhaps that’s because in movies you can��t just go “blah blah blah” about chasing sunsets and loving shiny things like an infectious disease and expect people to care.

“Artless grace” says Joyce Carol Oats in a blurb on the back of my copy. Dictionary definition: “Artless” = “without effort or pretentiousness; natural and simple”?

Without pretension?? Natural??? Seriously, Joyce, did you read the same book I did?

Oh, but the book has brought a smile to my lips at last, because it does crackle so nicely in the flames.

A Merry, Happy Christmas to one and all.
Profile Image for Robert Ross.
69 reviews25 followers
September 20, 2007
My dad gave me a copy of this book for Christmas one year, and it sat on my shelf for a while until one day I had nothing to read. I haven't finished reading it yet, even though I've made it from the front cover to the back cover at least four times now. I tell anyone who will listen that they should read this book, if just this one, once.

Helprin's style of writing is like the ocean, deep and dark, quietly ebbing and flowing, eroding the edges of continents, but also confident and strong, churning into a raging storm dragging all and sundry down to the depths. He has the gift of a born storyteller, who can lash together random letters and words into the most magical tale imagined.

I haven't read another book quite like it, and am in fact afraid to read any of his other works, fearing that I might not like them so much, slightly marring my opinion of him as a writer. But that's just silly and I plan to read his other works as well...just as soon as I finish reading "Winter's Tale" again.
Profile Image for Stephanie *Eff your feelings*.
239 reviews1,183 followers
August 30, 2014
I don't know what to think or say about this book.

I started it over three times and every time I lost interest, lost track of what was going on, and I finally decided life was too short.

Winter's Tale had a bunch of sing song prose that really could have used a good culling. Ultimately, I didn't know who anyone was and I didn't care, because all the pretty prose got in the way.

Just say what you mean dammit! Sure, make it a little pretty.....but everything in moderation!

There was a white horse and an Irish dude named Peter (I think), organized crime, a bad guy named Pearl who wanted a golden room.

That's all I know.
Profile Image for Aoibhínn.
158 reviews209 followers
August 22, 2016
This is one of those rare cases where the movie was so much better than the book! This book was very confusing! First off, there were just too many characters (well over a hundred of them) and it was too hard to keep track of who was who and as a result many of the characters were one dimensional and it was hard to care about them. The author introduced characters at random throughout the novel and then seemed to forget about them because they were never mentioned again... for example Willa was a significant character in the movie but in the book she was only featured on about 5 pages then forgotten about!

Secondly, there was no real plot to the novel. The story seemed to get lost around page 350 and it was just confusing after that! There were a lot of story-lines that had nothing to do with the plot and I found I had to keep re-reading sections to try to figure out what was happening. The plot spans over a hundred years, yet it was difficult to work out where you are in this timescale at any given point. It reached the point where I was averaging only a chapter a day on the Luas, because I couldn't bear to read it otherwise. At the end, I was left wondering what it was all about (but not in a good way). Btw, the plot in the book is completely different from the movie so don't think watching it will help you understand it!

Thirdly, it was way too long!! This book was 768 pages but it could have been condensed into about 250 pages. The story was far too drawn out! There was a lot of subplots and irrelevant passages in this book that did nothing to forward the plot (which should have been cut out by the editor). For instance the battle between the two newspapers was just boring to read, unnecessary to the plot and went on for too long (200 pages) and should have been cut from the book. The enormous length of this book just made it painful to read!

The only thing I did like about it was the romance story between Peter and Beverly (which is where the two stars come from) but that only lasts around 150 pages. I would have liked to read more of their love story but the other subplots and characters got in the way.

I would not even recommend this book to my worst enemy! I don't think I'll ever read another book by Mark Helprin again. Two stars!
Profile Image for Julie.
Author 6 books1,699 followers
February 23, 2014
One of my all-time favorite songs is "Solsbury Hill" by Peter Gabriel. From the warm A and E chords and heartbeat drum of the opening motif to the soaring bridge and the bass that feels as if it's part of your bloodstream, it's a song I want to crawl inside. It fills me with sense of wonder and joy and an aching~ longing~hunger~sadness~bliss that we don't have a word for in English, but they do in Portuguese: saudade; and in Welsh hiraeth. I want to write an entire book about this emotion.

But I'm thirty years too late. Mark Helprin beat me to it in 1983. He published Winter's Tale. It is 750 pages of saudade and hiraeth.

If you want to know what it feel like to soar on the crest of a sentence that tumbles into the wave of a paragraph, then builds into the tsunami of a story, read Winter's Tale. If you want a linear plot handed to you on a shiny, clean platter, with a folded linen napkin so you can dab away any splatters, this isn't the read for you.

I read this book thirty years ago as a high school freshman. The story didn't stay with me, but Helprin's images and language did. I've carried his wordsmith magic in me for decades, afraid that perhaps I remembered it to be greater than it was, that my awe was that of an impressionable, lonely kid.

I needn't have worried. Mark Helprin, your book still makes my heart go Boom Boom Boom

Climbing up on Solsbury Hill
I could see the city light
Wind was blowing, time stood still
Eagle flew out of the night
He was something to observe
Came in close, I heard a voice
Standing, stretching every nerve
I had to listen had no choice
I did not believe the information
I just had to trust imagination
My heart going boom, boom, boom
Son, he said, grab your things I've come to take you home
Profile Image for Erica.
1,315 reviews432 followers
July 29, 2016
I survived this book!
 photo Killersquirrelmonster.jpg
That's me after finishing this story.

Soooo...I hated it.
I totally read this in the wrong age (both in terms of my physical age and in terms of the century in which I am currently living) - I should have read this when I was in my young 20's, still idealistic and full of wonder, before the world changed over to the new millennium and 9/11.
I think had I read this back then, I'd have been enchanted.
In fact, I was enchanted through probably the first half of Peter Lake's story. Oh, the magic of the beautiful Belle Epoque when all things glistened, even orphans in tenements dying of TB. So perfectly touching.
Then the slipstream aspect of time and place showed up and I haven't been a fan of time manipulation in years so that was an unwelcome surprise. After that, I found I was trying to figure out just where/when in hell I was throughout most of the rest of the book and how it all related.
(It didn't relate. It was just smooshed together and forced to get along)
For me, it went from surreal and magical, charming and quaint to full-on pretentious and then to plain, ol' silly.

I suppose if I had to write a paper on this book, I'd say something about Peter Lake being a representation of the last beautiful age in America and Pearly Somes being the antithesis/reality of our sentimentality. The Ghost is probably a mockery of our own ridiculous, gluttonous, vain, indolent, self-involved society with Craig Binky being the representation of the 1% and Harry Penn being his antithesis as the hard-working, respected, talented, deserving millionaire.
Maybe had the entire book been written as a poking satire, laughing at our culture's wish to harness the perceived perfection of times long gone while simultaneously making terrible decisions that will lead even further away from a golden age, it might not have been so tedious. All the word misuse (I was highly offended at the misuse of "sesquipedalean" among others) was not fanciful, the ridiculous names not whimsical. It was grating and it irritated because the story was not a simple satire. It was also a love poem to New York City. We also have a...what? Fallen angel trying to make the rainbow bridge in order to get home? Did I read that right? Or maybe the rainbow bridge was to connect other realities with this one. I don't know. I'm not sure I care. And we have the magical, stuck-in-time-and-space Lake of the Coheres which is like a stepping stone from the last golden age to the turn of this past century and where wise women who love words live. We have a Jesus baby, we have lineage, and then there's the romance story, too, complete with otherworldly superpower protection born of true love. And a magical white horse.

It was too much for me. The author's little bio thingy says he doesn't belong to any set "literary school, movement, tendency, or trend" and I think I've come to realize in my stodgy old age that I need less of that and more of structure because my intellect can no longer handle anything wobbly.
Profile Image for Lori.
659 reviews69 followers
May 2, 2009
I'm about to start this. We'll see if I can stand to be away from the Malazen series for a bit.

I almost finished this 2 weeks ago, but couldn't bear to so I left the last 10 pages. Now I'm done, and I'm sorry to have woken up from a most magnificent dream. Because that's what this book was for me - reading it I would enter a fugue state, images would move across my internal screen, sounds would erupt and then fade away, I witnessed so many things, some terrible some so beautiful I felt like crying, as I walked through this incredible landscape of New York City and upstate. I soared with Peter Lake and Anthasor, shuddered with repulsion at the Short-Tails, and longed for Beverly.

I'm still waking from this dream, and as such am sorting through the various symbols. I know what they make me feel, but not quite sure yet what they mean.
Profile Image for Sarah.
Author 111 books709 followers
April 22, 2009
I can see why this book has its detractors. The author is verbose, and there are nearly too many characters to keep track. I have started it a half dozen times in the past, and always put it down before. This time, I made myself read far enough to get into it. The density of the prose gave way to some stunningly beautiful passages. The quirks of the individual characters and their backstories began to stand out. I was hooked.
I will admit that there are passages - often whole chapters - that I skimmed. There were characters that I cared about more than others, and events that seemed too tangential to matter. I had to force myself not to linger on individual phrases, or I would never have gotten through it. I look forward to reading it again - this time on a snowy day, as my sister recommended - and reading those passages more closely and discovering new details.
Profile Image for Lorna.
652 reviews352 followers
September 17, 2021
Winter's Tale is an epic fantasy and/or magical realism tale with shades of Dickensian literature beginning in the late 19th century and spanning the millenium taking place largely in New York City, its own vibrant character in Mark Helprin's book. From the opening lines I knew that this would be a book that was for me, all 768 pages of it. After all, we have Peter Lake's parents having been processed through Ellis Island when the realization comes that they will be returned to Ireland because they have tuberculosis. Peter Lake's father found a replica of the ship that had brought them to America, making a secure and water-tight bed for their infant son as they sent him ashore in the tiny vessel, selflessly relinquishing him to what they hope to be a better life. Alas, Peter Lake arrives on the shores where the Baymen take him in and shelter him until he is twelve years old. Years later when Peter Lake is fleeing for his life from Pearly Soames and the Short Tails a beautiful white horse, Athansor appears. It is their magical flight that hooked me from the beginning, and then there is Lake Coheeries and all of the winter magic it weaves as well as the beautiful love story of Peter Lake and Beverly Penn. It is said in this book that the beautiful white horse, Athansor, moves as though he is always hearing music. Throughout this book, music was playing in my head, not only with the beautiful and gripping prose but Helprin magically creates the sensation of fantasy and movement throughout this beautiful and wondrously told tale that I will certainly read again.

"The tail of the white horse swished back and forth as he trotted briskly down empty avenues and boulevards. He moved like a dancer, which is not surprising: a horse is a beautiful animal, but it is perhaps most remarkable because it moves as if it always hears music."

"With the two automobiles a long way behind, the white horse flew in great sinuous bounds, sailing through the air in a breathtaking flash of muscle. Peter Lake was used to Bay horses that took big leaps to move efficiently through shallow water. But this horse was just not a strong bounder, he was a champion in self-discovery. Before he had escaped for good and thrown in his lot with Peter Lake, he hadn't been able to run as he now was running, or at least he did not remember it. There was a fire in his knobby white knees and in his dovelike breast. With precision that might have put an arrow to shame, he went faster than any racehorse could have run. He could cover half a block in one stride, and his capacity steadily increased. At interesections packed with crooked lines of wagons, he jumped over whatever was in his way without knowing whay lay beyond the obstructions. He had enough control and time to take such chances, for midway in flight he could spot empty runs upon which to land, and sail to them faultlessly to resume the gallop."

"The beauty of the truth is that it need not be proclaimed or believed. It skips from soul to soul, changing form each time it touches, but it is what it is, I have seen it, and someday you will, too."
Profile Image for Stuart.
27 reviews6 followers
March 13, 2008
Winter's Tale sat on my shelves for about two years before I started it, taking up far more shelf space than any book has a right to unless it deals with subject matter like the wealth of nations or anatomy, but this book is huge because New York City is squeezed between the covers.

It's a profound book, steeped in love and human emotion, and yet whimsical in a lot of ways.

Hurrah for contradictory introductions to reviews!

Winter's Tale initially flirts with introducing philosophy, like an adult trying to get across the moral of a fable to a child, when the child is only interested in the story. I was only interested in the story. As the book progresses, and the progression is a visceral, lividly descriptive journey, the actions of the characters begin to demand your philosophical understanding if they are to make sense. It lures you into thinking more deeply about what you are reading.

The characters also begin as simple, straight-up-and-down folk, as you might find strolling through fairy tales or myths and legends, but gather layers of complexity and depth around themselves as time passes. And you will love the characters. I was startled when Conrad (my friend, not the Heart of Darkness chap) said he cried at the death of a character in another book...but Winter's Tale brought me close. Very close. Twice.

Come to think of it, all things gain complexity and depth as time passes in this story. The characters, the plot, and the city. But both the complexity and the depth are rich and enjoyable.

I had no idea that the book had a strong vein of magical realism until people started being abducted by clouds, and this put every supernatural occurrence in a novel and charming light, giving them a real sense of magic, like being happily charmed and confounded by a skilled street magician.

Winter's Tale is an awesome book.
It's a jaw-dropper, the kind of book that your mind sinks gleefully into and only emerges from occasionally to check that the body hasn't wandered into mortal peril.

It's not a quick read, but by the end I was putting off finishing it, to prolong the experience.

I loved it.
Plus there is a horsey.
Profile Image for Barbara K..
377 reviews67 followers
July 19, 2021
I read this long ago, and it has stayed with me vividly since. I’ve kept my copy of the book through many moves, and I look forward to reading it again some day.
Profile Image for Jonathan Peto.
252 reviews46 followers
June 6, 2020
I read Mark Helprin’s A Soldier of the Great War a couple decades ago and enjoyed it. I remember marveling at his descriptive prowess and purchased this novel last winter. Its size, however, kept it on the shelf. I also had buyer’s remorse and wasn’t sure if I really felt like reading it, so some vague impression kept me away too. I kept gravitating to other books. Winter’s coming, I thought recently. If the story doesn’t fly by page 100, I’ll abandon it without regret...

One relief from the very start was the immediate confirmation that the description was detailed and sublime. Another reviewer mocked Helprin’s writing as overblown. I was prepared to feel the same way but didn’t, not at all. Helprin crafts sentences that often wrap around several lines of text, at least for a good deal of the book, yet they consistently and effortlessly synthesize into a single powerful image. He strings together a series of amazing sensations - tastes, sights, sounds, smells - and unites them at the end of the sentence or paragraph organically, without undue intellectual concentration on the part of the reader. Helprin may have built his similes like tables but the result, the effect, is art. I was often amazed. More importantly, they never or very rarely distracted from the story.

I want to emphasize this point so much that I will praise his simile-writing again. Have you ever been annoyed by an author who inserts too many similes into his or her writing? I’m willing to bet that Helprin’s prose contains more. Except his work. The amount of similes per page is sometimes astonishing, especially because none were jarring or ill-conceived and most were even beautiful.

Mrs. Gamely and Virginia could hear a ferocious jingling as billions of ice fragments shuffled together on the swells, sounding like the lost souls of all the insects that had ever lived.

The air was springlike. It conveyed the same buoyant pleasure as walking into a gathering of little children, arrayed like wildflowers, in their colorful hats and scarves.

Sawtoothed jets of flame roared up the stairs like a huge serpent that had come from the lake to search for the children.

Before reaching page 100, I began thinking of a recently read YA novel and writer: Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor, a novel I enjoyed and writer I will read again. Helprin’s writing in Winter’s Tale reminded me that my criticisms of Daughter of Smoke & Bone are not necessarily about things that inevitably lead to flaws. I took issue with how Taylor structured part of her novel, that a large section of it was flashback. Helprin begins in a present. When he resorts to long flashbacks though, it worked. I cared what was happening even if it was past; I was immersed. Also, like two characters in Daughter of Smoke & Bone, characters in Winter’s Tale fall in love at first sight but Helprin pulls it off. I believed it, often entirely; I bought in. Maybe that was in part due to his description, which is not simply descriptive but is world-building, myth-making, and historical.

Published in 1983, I felt this novel foreshadowed Neil Gaiman in at least one way: the treatment of setting. In Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman’s London contains a shadow London. Winter’s Tale lacks that but its New York City is not our New York City, now or in the past. I have to admit that that disappointed me, though I eventually accepted it. Do not read Winter’s Tale if you’re looking to inhabit New York City for a time. There is magic in Helprin’s New York. Unspoken but palpable magic, powerful and fantastic, but not in a way that replicates or mirrors or even channels the atmosphere of the real New York, not in my experience anyway, though later sections of the book did seem to cut closer and closer to a paradoxical representation of reality.

A horse embodies some of Helprin’s magic (and a cloud front). Since I am not close to horses (or cloud fronts) and do not know horses, it did not necessarily work for me entirely, deeply, but again, I eventually accepted it. Like the horse, other elements of the story did not immediately click, especially at the beginning, but enough did. We begin with Peter Lake, a thief. People are after him and we learn why. The story digresses and we learn of Peter Lake’s upbringing and background as well as that of Pearly Soames, who wants Peter dead.

So there is plenty of excitement and suspense embedded in Helprin’s beautiful, knowledgeable description and world-building. It felt long, but I was eagerly turning pages most of the time.

I reached page 200 and assumed the book was completely about Peter Lake. I’m a fool. With over 500 pages left, of course other characters (and time periods) would and did emerge. A single mother from the countryside ends up in the big city, a son of fortune goes it alone. He encounters the single mom’s mother and offers to help her. Their stories connect to the first, the one with Peter Lake... Then even more characters are introduced. Connections abound. It is not dizzying or confusing, some characters get more attention than others. Peter Lake even returned after 200 pages... This is what long novels, epic novels, do, I guess; this is what interests literary novelists. In a way, Winter’s Tale is a precursor to some of David Mitchell’s work, except Helprin’s style remains consistent as the narrative traverses various characters and their interconnections through a century or so, mainly in New York City. Helprin shares Mitchell’s interest in tying disparate bits and pieces together, though what ties all these events and characters together is not obvious, not to me anyway, though that’s not necessarily bad. It is why some may describe the book as plotless, or at best, unfocused. At first sight, Helprin’s bits and pieces are less incongruous than Mitchell’s. Nevertheless, they are just as puzzling/puzzle-worthy as Mitchell’s, no lie. Ultimately, I enjoyed what I gleaned but am too lazy to be the ambitious reader Helprin envisions, even though I am interested in many of his themes, such as time. Perhaps, the presentation, the structure, fizzle-failed me. I began to lose interest in two of the characters, one I haven’t mentioned yet who is the editor of a newspaper, one whose changes I found daunting, though the story is so complex there were interesting things rolling around all the time, to the very end.

Given the fact that Mark Helprin was a speech writer for Bob Dole and is apparently a conservative commentator, I am surprised that the vision he lays out did not raise my hackles, and I was on the lookout! Someone named Benjamin Nugent noted in an article in N+1 Magazine that Helprin may be one of the only Republicans who writes literary novels. ( https://nplusonemag.com/online-only/o... ) He claims that Winter’s Tale reflects Helprin’s conservative politics and even states that “It’s a lyrical, extensively researched, occasionally polemical Republican epic.” He seems surprised that others don’t mention or notice.

The whole Republican epic bit went over my head. Mostly. Knowing it is supposedly there did lead to a search for evidence. What I found most of the time was mild and circumstantial, such as the fierce independence of some country folk who rescue the stranded passengers of a train and provide for them in a very harsh winter. I suppose the point could be that their actions were the true expression of a giving spirit that permeates independent, hard-working communities of wealth-generators and therefore demonstrates the “needless” largess of government “handouts”, but if that was Helprin’s intention, it was not heavy-handed. Within these pages, there are a few too many self-made, wealthy men whose talents and hard work always result in things working out, no matter how tough the initial going. These self-made men are also generous to others and appreciative of society. That, in my opinion, could be construed as evidence of a “polemical Republican epic”, but many novels feature characters who are luckier than most of us, so I did not usually find the presence of those characters overly preachy or over-bearing. This passage from late in the novel did sound like it could be an excuse to do nothing when injustice is on the rise: We learn that justice may not always follow a just act, that justice can sleep for years and awaken when it is least expected, that a miracle is nothing more than dormant justice from another time arriving to compensate those it has cruelly abandoned. Whoever knows this is willing to suffer, for he knows that nothing is in vain.

In general, I presume Helprin’s respect for the poor and downtrodden in Winter’s Tale is heartfelt and sincere. His enthusiasm and respect for all of humanity, for nature, for the future and the past, is evident (and at odds with the shrill lunacy of his political party, especially in regards to problems like climate change). If more Republicans had the stamina to write literary fiction, the required contemplation might lead to ideas and political platforms with substance. It would be a good thing, even for the rest of us. Maybe the political discourse in the US would grow saner and more hopeful. I therefore urge all writing teachers to coddle the young Republican writers in your classrooms, if any. Mark Helprin must be so, very, very lonely.
Profile Image for Branwen Sedai *of the Brown Ajah*.
969 reviews171 followers
December 16, 2013
"There was a white horse, on a quiet winter morning when snow covered the streets gently and was not deep and the sky was swept with vibrant stars, except in the east, where dawn was beginning in a light blue flood."

Every once in a while a book comes along that absolutely changes your life. As readers, I feel like we live for moments like that. I know at least I do. That perfect moment of clarity when a book reaches in and grabs your heart and soul and somehow becomes a part of you. And from that point on you carry it with you, inside you, wherever you go for the rest of your days. Winter's Tale is definately one such book for me. If you were to ask me what my thoughts on spirituality and eternity are, I would tell you to read Cloud Atlas. If you were to ask me how I felt about truth, love, beauty, and justice I would tell you to read Winter's Tale. It is absolutely, without a doubt, one of the most amazing books I have ever read in my entire life.

Let me tell you about it.

This book may not be for everyone. As much as I adore it, I can be unbiased enough to know that some people may get a little frustrated with the pacing, because it is a bit slow. There are a plethora of characters with vastly different storylines which don't come together until near the end of the book and it is a little frustrating to try and piece them together and remember everything that is going on.


In spite of all that this book is pure magic. The author describes everything in lavish detail, so much so that you feel as if you are right there in the pages with the characters. The story is just so dam beautiful, so heartbreaking, so emotional. Everything about it just tugs at your heartstrings. The descriptons of winter, all the snow and ice and wind were so breathtakingly gorgeous that at times it made me want to cry. You can't rush through this book. You have to devour it slowly, and let the magic weave its way into your mind.

This is a story about beauty...

"There are animals in the stars, with pelts of light and deep endless eyes. Astronomers think that the constellations were imagined. They were not imagined at all. There are animals, far distant, that move and thrash smoothly, and yet are entirely still. They aren't made up of the few stars in the constellations that represent them-they're too vast-but these point in the directions in which they lie."

"On infinite meadows in the black, creatures made of misty light tossed their manes in motionless eternal swings that passed through the stars like wind sweeping through wildflowers."

It is a story about love...

"It's only love. You don't have to believe me. It's all right if you don't. The beauty of the truth is that it need not be proclaimed or believed. It skips from soul to soul, changing form each time it touches, but it is what it is. I have seen it, and someday you will too. Then she turned to him and stretched out her arms. And he went to her as if he had been born for it. It was as if they had been kept from one another for a thousand years and would not come together for yet another thousand. But now, chest against chest, arm cradled in arm, hallucinatory and light, they felt as if they were whirling in a cloud."

"How just it would be if for our final reward we were to be made the masters of time, and if those we love could come alive again not just in memory, but in truth."

"Love passes from soul to soul. It does last forever."

And it is a story about justice and truth...

"In this infinite universe, whole worlds have been created for the instruction and elevation of a few simple souls."

"The suffering of the innocent would be accounted for, if, in ages to come or ages that had been, the reasons for everything were revealed and balances were evened. It would explain destiny, and coincidence, and his image of the city as if he had been looking from high above at a living creature with a pelt of dusky light. It would explain that every action in the world had eventual consequences and would never be forgotten, as if it were entered in a magnificent ledger of unimaginable complexity. He thought it might explain freedom, memory, transfiguration, and justice-though he did not know how."

"We learn that justice may not always follow a just act, that justice can sleep for years and awaken when it is least expected, that a miracle is nothing more than dormant justice from another time arriving to compensate those it has cruelly abandoned. Whoever knows this is willing to suffer, for he knows that nothing is in vain."

"Miracles come to those who risk defeat in seeking them. They come to those who have exhausted themselves completely in a struggle to accomplish the impossible."

Do not read this book if you can't see the beauty in winter. Do not read this book if you can't see the magic and love in the world around you. Do not read this book if your heart is hardened and you do not believe that it can be thawed or softened. But if you can do all these things, and feel with every inch of your heart and soul...then this book is undoubtedly for you.

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