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The Winter Vault

3.56  ·  Rating details ·  2,004 ratings  ·  331 reviews
Award-winning poet and novelist Anne Michaels gives us a love story of extraordinary depth and complexity, a mesmerizing tale that juxtaposes historical events with the most intimate moments of individual lives.

In 1964, a newly married Canadian couple settles into a Nile River houseboat moored below the towering figures of Abu Simbel. Avery is one of the engineers responsi
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published April 21st 2009 by Knopf (first published January 1st 2009)
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Violet wells
Oct 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
I have tremendous admiration for Anne Michaels’ courage and ambition. She composes her novels as though she believes she has a place beside the very best novelists in history. I suppose though you could also use an argument of hubris against her. Her insistence on the poetry of life can be exhausting. Her characters are immune to 90% of life’s emotion, especially all the petty stuff. Every moment is an epiphany. Often these are very beautifully described with lots of wisdom. Her characters are t ...more
Jan 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
While reading this I was aware that there's a line where profundity and pretension begin blurring into each other. It's a very subjectively drawn line, no less subjective I suppose than the varying criteria we all have for evaluating what we read. At the final count though, Anne Michaels won me over again because all the best bits were better than the best bits in most other novels.

The first part of the novel is about an English engineer who works on a project in the desert to move the temple a
I first read this book 10 years ago, and reread it for a group discussion at 21st Century Literature which I am leading here.

The Canadian poet and novelist Anne Michaels' second novel has many similarities with her Orange Prize winning debut Fugitive Pieces, and in some ways I liked it even more. It is not an easy read - the prose is densely poetic, and it is easy to miss significant details. She brings together three pieces of post-war history and weaves them into a love story and a meditation
Oct 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
The Winter Vault tells the story of an engineer and his young wife. It begins in 1964 with their life in the desert where Avery, the husband, is involved in the piece by piece removal of a temple threatened by the rising water levels caused by a recently constructed dam. The traumatising pivot of the novel is the stillbirth of the couple's baby girl.

Like Fugitive Pieces, her previous book, this is a very poetic novel. It’s a novel that has you underlining wise and beautiful passages rather than
Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
This one is special. To demonstrate, let me IGNORE the best parts, those where I had to stop, catch my breath, close my eyes for fear that the words are already blinding me while feeling "the blow, the disaster to a soul... caused by beauty." Allow me, instead, to maybe just pick a brief scene where nothing is happening, where the author appears to be giving the reader a respite from the seemingly endless glimpses of what literature probably is beyond this world we know--

"Dusk in Owen's bedroom,
I had the strange impression that this piece of writing was sculpted patiently out of a huge block of stone just as the giant statues of the pharaohs were sculpted in the Nubian desert. I felt that there were many more bits of writing that had been chipped away and discarded and what we were left with was the pared down shape which Michaels had carefully sculpted for us. I was fascinated by the engineering details relating to dam construction and the impact of man-made lakes on local communities ...more
Nov 15, 2010 rated it liked it
I was cautioned by those who had attempted to read this book that they had found it like “work.” Some had even given up in the attempt. And it was work in the opening chapters, when I was treated to excessive descriptions on engineering and botany, and given the exact number of villages, houses, people, goats, camels, ducks, geese and other assorted denizens who were moved during the building of the Aswan Dam in Egypt in 1964. And this excessive “dumping” of research data repeated whether in des ...more
Friederike Knabe
Nov 22, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: canadian-lit
Review from May 2009

Not many authors would have the boldness to connect three completely unrelated examples of engineering ingenuity in three different continents under one thematic arc, however complex and multilayered. Anne Michaels has done just that in her new, long awaited second novel, THE WINTER VAULT.

Michaels' passion is, however, less focused on the impressive visible results of three engineering achievements - the Aswan Dam in Egypt, the St. Lawrence Seaway in Canada and the post-Worl
I'd give this another half star if I could but I cannot, in all honesty with myself, give it three.

This book was chosen--a little to my dismay, I admit (something about the title!)--by my more 'literary' bookclub. I read it slowly, trying to do so with an open mind. In the end, however, I was left feeling the same way I felt when i began: these novels are a perfect example of all the problems in so-called 'literary novels' and in so many novels written by authors who are first and foremost poet
Isla McKetta
Mar 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction-by-poets
I've been thinking about what I could say about this book that would express how much I loved it. The only way to start is with my own story. Four months ago I married the man I have loved for sixteen years and I thought marriage would be a capstone on our relationship. I didn't realize our marriage would be the beginning of a new phase of love. Reading about Jean and Avery falling in love, I saw a closeness and intimacy that mirrored ours. I remembered what it was like to fall in love with my h ...more
Andrew Mcleod
Jan 29, 2010 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: Nobody
Recommended to Andrew by: My wife
This is a detailed review because my wife asked me to read it and comment on it, since she was due to read it and discuss it at her book club. I must emphasize that this is a very personal perspective. I have not read Fugitive Pieces.

Hardback Edition. Bloomsbury 2009.

Prologue. A very poetic introduction - but essentially meaningless. Well - wait a minute - it may not be meaningless, but when a poet writes, it can be very difficult to get inside the mind of the poet. For example, many years ago,
Aug 01, 2009 rated it it was amazing
There is very little story to this novel. Two decent, smart and unremarkable people are in love and then find it difficult to love one another following the death of their child. The details of this story are given much less attention than you might expect; instead, long passages consider the wife's interest in botany or the husband's involvement in public works projects. I wondered why this is so and the answer I came up with is that this is kind of the way life is: Thinking about what you do o ...more
It was better than OK.

The crazy thing was that I was reading it for no better reason than that I picked it up from my bedside table before heading out on a trip. Then I found myself sitting in a presentation in a hotel ballroom where a tidy well dressed speaker told of how a village and its inhabitants would be displaced by a mining operation and how the technology he was demonstrating would predict the costs of relocation and burden of disease before and after for the population. Why weird? Be
Aug 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 17, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Anne Michaels is primarily a poet, and her prose shows it. I'm not sure I know where she is going in this book, but I think she is exploring the destruction of whole ways of life: the farms and villages that made room for the St. Lawrence Seaway, Nubian culture and life for the Aswan Dam, the Holocaust for??? Not sure about the last one, but there are hints.

How can you not love a book that starts with"
"Perhaps we painted on our own skin, with ochre and charcoal, long before we painted on stone."
Emi Bevacqua
Jun 25, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Beautiful imagery, but so wafty drifty sleep-inducing. Young married couple Avery and Jean are in Egypt as he's working on engineering the relocation of a historic temple. All they ever talk about in bed is their parents, endlessly, insufferably. They suffer a tragic loss, and drift apart in Canada. So she finds an artsy misanthrope to talk endlessly, insufferably in bed with. And then there's a happy ending, but I can't remember anything about any of them 5 minutes after having finished reading ...more
Nell Beaudry
This is nigh on sacrilegious, but I may just prefer this to Fugitive Pieces. Barely. It's beautiful and a bit soul destroying and those who can't find a plot in this aren't reading closely enough, or aren't feeling closely enough. I imagine this is the type of book one revisits, and I'm already looking forward to finding out what I'll get out of it the next time. ...more
It took me quiet a while to read this. But simply because I read it very slowly, deliberately slowly. I loved it so much, I didn't want it to end.
Anne Michaels' prose is so wonderful, every new sentence, every new paragraph, is a poem, is a love song to language, to the written word.
(My copy of the book is now full of notes and underlined bits. It's like I had conversations with the characters, while reading. There was so much going on in my head while I was following the story, I couldn't hel
Nov 27, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016-books
This book was work. Even though there was some great passages, overall the language was terribly convoluted. I suffered through every page.
Oct 11, 2012 rated it it was ok
Everyone knows that one guy that's just too articulate. You know, the guy who uses phrases like "his soul is courage," or maybe "it rolled out like a papyrus scroll in my palm." After awhile, it crosses the line from pleasantly odd to creepy to just plain annoying, no matter if he's right or wrong. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate those people-- they spice up life, give me something to think about when we're chatting across the table. But that kind of wording just doesn't really belong there, ev ...more
Ruth Seeley
I'm not a big fan of Anne Michaels and I have to say the Quill and Quire review sums up my feelings about this one: Still, I liked it a lot better than Fugitive Pieces, and there were some highly quotable gems amongst the prose, which does seem a little less 'hothouse exotic' than in her previous novel. Still, Michaels' fiction suffers from a refusal to embrace realism stylistically even when she tackles themes - love, loss, displacement - that could ben ...more

It's just one of those things, you know. The writing is beautiful, so many poignant turns of phrase I couldn't possibly list them all. The love story was also beautiful, the longing between Jean and Avery so palpable I almost couldn't bear it when they separated. Loss, love, retribution, tragedy, beauty within tragedy ... this novel has it all.

And I can't figure out why I didn't enjoy it more.

Maybe it was just too much. As isolated sentences, the book is unique in its truth. But throw all th
Aug 22, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Well, I did finish, but can't say I loved this. The author is clearly a master with words, with a poetic approach to emotions, etc., but the frequent references to things mechanical and technological create too harsh a contrast, and the two themes do not come together for me. I think she tried to put too much into a basically slim volume. We have the past lives of three characters, past lives which do not ever really come together. The theme of destruction of cities is repeated, but gets tedious ...more
Karla Huebner
Sep 30, 2015 added it
Shelves: fiction
This is a poetic, sensory, sensitive novel about love and dislocation, which I read gradually over a period of months, generally on Saturday mornings while eating crepes at our local farmer's market. I missed some of the detail and narrative momentum by reading it in this protracted fashion, but nonetheless it is a book that can actually be read that way without utter confusion. I found it enjoyable. I see that one reviewer here felt it regrettably "told" rather than "showed"--I would disagree w ...more
Oct 25, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A lovely, lovely and heartbreaking book. Highly recommend it for anyone interested in reading thoughtful, poetic prose on the nature of grief, love, and suffering. This is a book I will keep around for a re-read some day, and I don't do that very often. If you like Michael Ondaatje or Jeannette Winterson, give Anne Michaels a try. Really worth it.

My one negative comment: I really don't like the cover of the edition I read. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the story and doesn't even come clo
Belinda Waters
Aug 03, 2017 rated it did not like it
I couldn't finish this book. I picked it up this morning and read another 20 pages and I just can't take anymore.... ...more
Laura JC
Good writing. Interesting historical events - Aswan Dam, St. Lawrence Seaway, post-war Poland - all about having to begin again. A love story too. It was timely that I was touring in Egypt while reading this book, learning about the flooding of the Abu Simbel site, other monuments and Nubian villages. I visited the re-located Abu Simbel temples and saw some of the re-located villages.
switterbug (Betsey)
Feb 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
The first page of this book (something between an epigraph and a prologue) informs the narrative thrust of the story and glues the abstract elements into a philosophical cohesiveness. This novel, while still a loosely constructed story with main characters and a forward progression, is primarily a meditation on the eternal forces of the human condition entwined with the timeless elements of the earth. The poetic narrative is like an instrument hovering above the earth's atmosphere and producing ...more
Aban (Aby)
Jan 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jeannie Mckinney
Jan 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Winter Vault is a beautifully written book. Sometimes I would wonder how Ms. Michaels could know or find the wonderful, precise words to brush her images into the reader like a watercolor, which you can paint over so much that it muddies the scene. Not here. The depictions of the temple and artifacs in Egypt were disturbing when Jean, shuddering I believed, recounted the slicing of the stones of Ramsees' leg, but beautifuly disturbing when she talked of the Nubians; downright horrifying in the r ...more
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21st Century Lite...: The Winter Vault - Background/General (no spoilers) 9 32 Aug 24, 2020 01:00AM  

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From Canadian Poetry Online:

Anne Michaels was born in Toronto, Canada, in 1958. She is the author of one novel Fugitive Pieces, which explores the possibility of love and faith alter the Holocaust, with language marked by power, elegance, and integrity. Ms. Michaels, who has also composed musical scores for the theater, has said "when you put a tremendous amount of love into your work, as in any r

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“In every childhood there is a door that closes. Only real love waits while we journey through our grief. That is the real trustworthiness between people. In all the epics, in all the stories that have lasted through many lifetimes, it is always the same truth: love must wait for wounds to heal. It is this waiting we must do for each other, not with a sense of mercy, or in judgment, but as if forgiveness were a rendezvous. How many are willing to wait for another in this way?” 15 likes
“And she knew for the first time that someone can wire your skin in a single evening, and that love arrives not by accumulating to a moment, like a drop of water focused on the tip of a branch - it is not the moment of bringing your whole life to another - but rather, it is everything you leave behind. At that moment.
Even that night, the night he touched one inch of her in the dark, how simply Avery seemed to accept the facts - that they were on the edge of lifelong happiness and, therefore, inescapable sorrow. It was as if, long ago, a part of him had broken off inside, and now finally, he recognised the dangerous fragment that had been floating in his system, causing him intermittent pain over the years. As if he could now say of that ache: "Ah. It was you.”
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