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A Spell of Winter

3.57  ·  Rating details ·  1,805 ratings  ·  188 reviews
Unsettling love and stifled horror create and then destroy the claustrophobic world of this lush, literary gothic set in turn-of-the-century England. Catherine and Rob Allen, siblings two years apart, grow up in a world of shameful secrets. Their mother creates a public outcry, abandoning her family for a bohemian life on the Continent. Their father, whose mental state alw ...more
Hardcover, 313 pages
Published February 5th 2001 by Grove/Atlantic (first published January 1st 1995)
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Average rating 3.57  · 
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Amalia Gavea
‘’They were bringing my uncle Joseph down the stairs. Narrow, twisty stairs they put in houses where they’d given no thought to the living or the dead. You couldn’t get a coffin up them.’’

Helen Dunmore needs no introductions. Taken from us too soon, she produced a number of the most unique and humane literary treasures in Contemporary British Literature. Having read most of her work, do I dare that A Spell Of Winter is her finest novel? I think I do…

‘’Thinking of people when they’re not th/>
Hannah Greendale
A Spell of Winter isn't lyrical so much as it is lulling. With the exception of a few bumbling sentences (such as "Elsie shudders exaggeratedly as she goes away in the early December dusk"), Dunmore's craft exudes an easy rhythm and dips in and out of the past and present with a fluidity akin to waves gently lapping at the shore.

This tale of forbidden love, dark secrets, and intimacy that crosses into dangerous territory, never quite delivers high stakes or tension, serious threat or heartbreak. The ch"Elsie
I had such a strange reaction to this book: I loved this more than anything I have read in a long time, but when I started thinking about writing this review, I had the hardest time putting my finger on why.  Its structure is a bit messy and tonally inconsistent; it doesn't really deliver anything promised on the blurb (not a fault in the book itself - but I think it's bound to frustrate a lot of readers who go into expecting a mystery or a Shirley Jackson-esque haunted mansion tale); but it rea ...more
Sep 06, 2012 rated it it was ok
For whatever reason, I have some kind of secret (not to secret now) fascination for literary brother/sister incest stories. Maybe because I have no brothers and thus no frame of reference to get suitably skeeved out by it. But whatever, neither here nor there.

The trouble with this book was that it just plain loses you. Parts of it are good - her writing style is gorgeous in places, tedious in others - and frankly, I just had a hard time keeping up with what the hell was going on. You
Eric Anderson
Helen Dunmore was a British writer who produced an impressive amount of work over the past thirty years with dozens of novels, children's books, short stories and poetry collections. She's someone I always meant to read but never got around to. Sadly she died in 2017, but the following year her final poetry collection posthumously won the Costa Book Awards Book of the Year. Since I'm currently reading the novels longlisted for this year's Women's Prize I thought I'd go back and read Dunmore's “A Spel ...more
Sep 10, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This haunting and evocative novel was the first Orange Prize Winner and set a high standard for future hopefuls. Helen Dunmore creates a world which is at once understandable and yet totally different. Rob and Catherine live in virtual isolation in the crumbling old house belonging to their grandfather. It is gradually revealed to us that their mother has left and is living abroad, while their father, unable to cope without her, has been admitted to a sanitorium. We see events through the eyes o ...more
Sep 27, 2010 rated it did not like it
This book is a depressing text of the multi-generational misery of one family. I finished the book in hopes of discovery the answer to the family secrets but found no satisfaction there or anywhere else in this book. But somebody liked this book since it is a "Orange Winner" a prestigious award from England. I found it dreary and the characters worthy of a good slap and a "What the heck are you thinking/doing!"
Grace Harwood
Mar 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Of all Helen Dunmore's books, this is my very favourite. I've read it twice and plan on reading it again because it is a truly beautifully written, haunting tale. The chill which has taken hold of the crumbling previously grand country house and its occupants is almost tangible - you will get cold fingers just holding the book and turning the pages. The house and characters are both occupied by dark secrets and watching the evolution/aftermath which is derived from them makes for compulsive read ...more
Lezanne Clannachan
Apr 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A Spell of Winter follows the lives of Cathy and Rob before, during and after World War I. Their mother abandons the family home when they are children and their father dies, leaving them to grow up in a decaying mansion cut off from the rest of the world. Their sense of isolation and dependency on each other mutates into incest. It is testament to the strength of Dunmore’s writing that she delivers truths about love and loss through the vehicle of such ingrained taboo. I didn’t merely believe i ...more
Dec 05, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
“It is winter, my season…. My winter excitement quickened each year with the approach of darkness. I wanted the thermometer to drop lower and lower until not even a trace of mercury showed against the figures. I wanted us to wake to a kingdom of ice where our breath would turn to icicles as it left our lips, and we would walk through tunnels of snow to the outhouses and find birds fallen dead from the air. I willed the snow to lie for ever, and I turned over and buried my head under the pillow s ...more
Megan Chance
Jan 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This tale of a brother and sister in the English countryside is gorgeous, uncomfortable, lyrical, sad and hopeful. Dunmore captures a mood and plunges you into it without mercy. It's a bit of a demanding read--Dunmore leaps across time and space, her narrative mirroring the way people think, but as a result, you are immersed completely. She doesn't rationalize or explain away her characters' actions, but simply presents them without judgment, and while the characters may be difficult to like, th ...more
Callum McLaughlin
Told in gorgeous prose, A Spell of Winter is a strangely beguiling tale that explores forbidden love, the burden of secrets, and the struggle to escape the cloying inheritance of family.

Set largely in the build up to WWI, the story is narrated by Catherine, a young woman who feels increasingly cut off from the outside world. Abandoned by her mother as a child, embarrassed by the mental breakdown of her father that led to his hospitalisation, and ignored by the grandfather who finds too muc
Helen Corcoran
Mar 16, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: adult, historical, 2008
The author's name seemed really familiar to me until I realised I'd been staring at her children's work for about a year by then, but I hadn't known she'd written books for adults, too.

This book has incest in it, but if your only experience of incest is Virginia Andrews, then you're in for a shock because Helen Dunmore can write circles around her. (Also, it won the Orange Prize in 1996, so someone with literary power obviously thought it was good, too. :D) I cannot stress how amazin
Oct 06, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Beautiful and so addictive! There is a lot going on in this book and it left me feeling a lot of feelings - it's been a while that I had finished a book and felt like I've lived through it.

Full review to come at
Sep 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favourite-books
I read Helen Dunmore’s novel With Your Crooked Heart many years ago and I’ve been a fan ever since. Dunmore’s prose is like poetry, every sentence a perfect balance between beauty and truth. Winner of the 1996 Orange Prize, A Spell of Winter is the fourth novel I’ve read by her, and I have also read her collection of short stories, Ice Cream.

A Spell of Winter concerns the lives of Cathy and Rob, siblings who live in a crumbling manor house in England. Their guardian is their maternal grandfather, “the man from n/>A
An absent mother and dying father leave Catherine and her brother Rob in pseudo-isolation, encouraging the relationship between them to grow intense and intimate. But when that relationship begins to break down, Catherine alone must reconstruct the fragments of her life. A Spell of Winter is a dream of a book, disjointed, atmospheric, and cold. However effective that atmosphere, it deadens the intensity of relationships and characters's sufferings. The right elements are there: a complex and distinct ...more
Roger Brunyate
Jan 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Return to Bronte Country

If one of the Brontes had written a novel set a century later, would it have turned out like this? There is the same harsh northern landscape, the same tug of forbidden passions, family secrets similarly buried, and the familiar situation of the rich bachelor a distant figure on the neighboring estate. But the sexual frankness belongs to a much later period still, and there is also a modern sensibility in the heroine's path to self-realization, not through others but on
Jun 29, 2014 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
MaryannC. Book Freak
I'll give this 3.5 stars. Yes, it was haunting and somewhat dark in it's mood, but it was also creepy. Not scary creepy, creepy weird. The characters have unnatural attachments and feelings, it was an interesting read.
Aug 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Spellbinding. Gorgeous lyrical writing but also great characters you cared for.

Not surprised it won Orange Prize all those years ago.
Jan 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: entertainment
This book almost got five stars from me. It's Flowers in the Attic with actual attention to developed writing style and a historical time period. Moreover, it's similar to The Mill on the Floss, one of my favorite period books. Eliot's work does not have overt incest (it was enough just to hint towards attraction during that time period), but the close connection of the isolated siblings, the jealousy of the suitors, the "dark" beauty in the pristine society of appearances who is othered (like Maggie, ever ...more
Jan 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
Well, this book wasn't what I expected at all. I picked it because I saw it had won the Orange award, and went into it not knowing much else about it. The cover made me think I was in for a romance novel with heaving bosoms and complicated schemes to bring about unexpected and perhaps diasapproved but fortuitous marriage proposals. However, the beginning quickly disabused me of those notions, as it started with a description of a decaying body being carried clumsily down stairs, and moved on to ...more
Theresa Leone Davidson
A while back The Nation printed all of the Orange Prize winners, and I have read a few of them, and found that I either agreed wholeheartedly with the book winning the award, or I was befuddled because I REALLY did not like the story. A Spell of Winter falls somewhere in between. I waffled between three and four stars for this one: there are lines, whole passages, that are so beautifully written, I found myself rereading them, and the relationship between the narrator, Catherine, and her brother ...more
Sep 20, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: women-s-prize
This is a strange, haunting story of forbidden love, abandoned families and loneliness.

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

The weather plays quite a part - coldness and numbness, not just cold but without warmth anywhere, all greenery shrouded and subdued - this is Catherine's life. Yet she does not help herself to reach beyond the chi
Jan 24, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Uta Mooney
Dec 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm a big fan of Helen Dunmore's writing and this book did not disappoint. I felt like I was inside the head of the main character, Cathy. I saw what she saw, felt what she felt. A Spell of Winter takes you back to a different time with different social rules. Although quite disturbing at times I thoroughly enjoyed it and did not want the story to end.
Jan 02, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I think I'd actually give this 3.5 if I could.
May 27, 2013 rated it liked it
Strange, sad, majestically paced. I was 90% through with it before I realized that it didn't take place in Ireland. It has that rainy, melancholy, family oriented feel to it.
Tim Cole
Feb 06, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reason for reading:
There were two Helen Dunmore books I wanted to read this year – The Siege, which I found to be a wonderful read, and this one, the winner of the inaugural Orange Prize in 1996. Very nice of The Book People to have put together a bundle of all ten of her books pre-The Betrayal for eight quid as well. I didn’t know quite what I was letting myself in for…

About the book:
Insanity, incest and a back yard abortion. Well that’s just part of it of course, but it does provide a fairly a
I generally enjoy controversial books, and I heard that this historical fiction included the always controversial plot point of incest. The short version of my review is: it’s amazing how boring a book about incest and WWI can actually be. For the longer version, read on.

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

I was similarly fru
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Savidge Reads: A Spell Of Winter by Helen Dunmore (1996) 17 77 Sep 20, 2019 02:24AM  

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