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The Centre of Winter

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  1,317 ratings  ·  129 reviews
'All the seasons here in the north move toward their own end, except winter, which moves towards its centre and sits there to see how long you can take it.'

In the middle of a Minnesota winter, Arnold Schiller gives in to the opressive season that reigns outside and also to this own inner demons and commits suicide, leaving a devastated family in his wake.
Paperback, 326 pages
Published February 1st 2005 by Fourth Estate (GB)
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Average rating 3.88  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,317 ratings  ·  129 reviews

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Rebecca McNutt
The Center of Winter is intriguing but also quite depressing in a self-indulgent sort of way, trying to paint an honest portrayal of mental illness and family dysfunction but mainly just romanticizing and glamorizing it into something unrealistic. I still really like Hornbacher's writing and think it's very evocative, though. It captures everything really vividly.
Aug 22, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Center of Winter is the story of a father's suicide and the way it reverberates through his family for the next year. Told from the perspective of all the ones left behind (his wife, son, and young daughter), the novel is by turns excruciatingly sad, dull, painful, and joyful. It's the story of a family coming back to life after the unthinkable has happened, and not just surviving but eventually thriving.

I found myself falling in love with every character in the book, even the ma
Aug 13, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This read both warms you and breaks your heart. Davey and Kate are six yrs old and the best of friends. Esau is Kate's twelve yr old brother who seems to have Bipolar Disorder. He has his "darks" and is hospitalized, institutionalized and eventually brought home and stabilizes. His mother says he has the "sick-sads" that he quite possibly inherited from his father who eventually kills himself. Kate and Davey are inseparable-there is not one without the other. Kate loves her brother more than she ...more
May 06, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm not sure how much I really liked this book. I couldn't put it down, but I ended it feeling ambivalent. I think my expectations may have been unrealistically high since I liked Hornbacher's memoir so much. This book was interesting, and sometimes it was incredible, but it was also uncomfortably bleak at some points, and the writing was sometimes awkward and thick (there's no need for someone to shriek on every page) and a few of the characters got on my nerves. Despite those complaints, still ...more
Jan 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites
SO well written. loved this novel from start to finish, couldn't put it down.
"All the seasons here in the north move toward their own end, except winter, which moves towards its centre and sits there to see how long you can take it. Spring twitches impatiently in its seat like a child wanting to go outside, straining toward summer,and summer, all lush and showy, tumbles headlong toward the decay of fall. Fall comes and goes so fast it takes the breath away, arriving in brocades of red and
Liz Filippone
Nov 05, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
This was truely a beautiful story. There are sad times with this family, but brighter times as well. The author's description and comparison of winter and life is so on! Since it takes place in northern minnesota, you really feel the cold in the winter and heat in the summer. I loved how the mom, son and daughter narrated the story in different sections. It really told you from their point of view what was going on. I felt each section was in good length and I'm sure it was a hard thing to do fo ...more
Chelsey Clammer
Jan 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Damn. This is such a well written novel and engaging story. It centers around a father's suicide-but thorugh her writing talent, Hornbacher makes the novel incredibly wonderful and not at all depressing. The story is told from 3 different viewpoints--the spunky 6-year-old daughter's, the mentally ill 12-year-old son's, and the widow's. The construction of the narratives moves the story along and makes you feel like you are a part of their family. It's the best novel I've read in a REALLY long ti ...more
Jun 22, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Now that I have read two books by Marya Hornbacher, I can officially say that she is one of my favourite authors. Not that I didn't know it already from the moment I started reading her memoir "Wasted"..
I would kill to write as well as she does, and now I know for sure that she can also build believable, endearing characters to perfection. I absolutely fell in love with every one of them, especially Esau who has the kindest heart. I just wanted to hold them all close and tell them that everythi
Having read Hornbacher's intimate memoir about her battle with Bulimia and mental illness, Wasted, some years ago, I've been meaning to pick up some of her fiction ever since. Her debut novel, Centre Of Winter, came highly recommended to me by a friend and it didn't disappoint.

Narrated by three members of the same family, it takes in their different perspectives of coming to terms with the suicide of their patriarch, Arnold, and how his death has affected them individually and as a whole. The youngest daught
Kate Pittman
Jan 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you read Marya Horbacher, don't expect it to be all sunshine and roses. I adore her writing. She's a person who has experienced a lot of pain in her life through her battles with eating disorders, addiction, and mental illness. When she writes about these subjects, it comes from a place of true personal understanding and that brings so much more reality to her words.
The other two books of hers I have read are Wasted and Madness. Both are excellent memoirs. This is her first venture into
Aug 14, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2010
This is a story about how one family copes with death and grief within the family. Told from the mother, the daughter, and the sons' point of view.

I thought it was a little boring at times...


"When you're six, you don't know about what happens at the end. Because the world revolves around you when you're six, you assume the end must be catastrophic, because it would be catastrophic to you. The end would be dramatic and loud.
But what really happens at the end is that you sit d
Nov 12, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've read two of Hornbacher's non-fiction books and enjoyed both, so I've been looking forward to this fiction debut for awhile - I was not at all disappointed. Hornbacher sticks with what she knows and does well - mental illness and dysfunctional families (Hornbacher's two non-fiction books are about her struggles with eating disorders and mental health), and while I wasn't surprised at how well she captured the experiences of Esau, I loved that she did equally well in the sections narrated by ...more
Jan 19, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I read a little over 30 pages of this book and could not continue despite my best efforts. The protagonist was a child and the author was unable to write in the authentic voice of a child. I found the dialogue between the six year-old protagonist and her twelve-year old brother completely phony. There was not enough other depth to the narrative to sustain my interest and I realized my mind had wandered too many times.
May 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow. What this author did was take grief, PTSD, mental illness, love, children, alcholism, endings and beginnings, family and friendship and put everything together in a poignant and humorous novel that I absolutely did not want to put down. There were times while reading this book that I wanted to cry, and then laugh, and then laugh some more, amidst the family chaos, grief and what it is really like inside the mind of a child.
Lisa Heath
Jul 08, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who needs a little cry.
Recommended to Lisa by: I saw somewhere that my friend Valerie was reading it.
I haven't read "Wasted." I am glad. This was my first MH book.

I was ill-prepared for what the book centers around [death.] But once I started reading .... I put the other books I was reading away and focused on "The Center of Winter."

I cried. And cried. Cried.

Loved it. Was mad that I finished it so quickly. Because it was good. But I wasn't ready for it to endddd.

Thank god the ending didn't make me cry more. Couldn't have dealt with it.

Aug 07, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: did-not-finish
It's not that the author is a bad writer - it's more like she has never interacted with actual human beings. Not one conversation in this book felt authentic. I've never met six year olds who talk or behave like Kate and Davey. But it was a problem with every character in the book. It got so annoying and unsettling that I finally had to give up.
Sep 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Rarely do I give a book 5 stars but Marya Hornbacher deserves it for all that she put into this story of mental illness, pain, love, and hope. This is a beautifully written book that hooks you from the start and takes you on a emotion filled journey with each character. It is heartfelt and real in the midst of a fictional world. I can only hope that Ms. Hornbacher will write more fiction.
Jan 26, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I didn't love the end because it seemed like it went a little too fast and I actually had to read the last few pages twice in order to "get" everything, but that doesn't take away from this wonderful, well-written book. I wasn't sure if I'd like Marya's novel, since I LOVED her nonfiction book, Wasted. But she showed me that she can do both very, very well!
Jan 21, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was most impressed by the author's ability to make me really know these characters on a very in depth level. Wonderful character development, moved me to tears on a few occasions, and explored mental illness in a very honest manner. I really enjoyed reading this!
Ally Stefanides
Mar 22, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A wonderful story of fiction from a woman who has already given so much of her story.
Aug 31, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a sad book! I still liked it though.
Britt O'Duffy
Mar 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017
I'm surprised that this book received mixed reviews. Granted, it doesn't compare to Hornbacher's stellar, wor(l)d-shattering memoirs, but it is a strong text in its own right. The shifts in perspective helped propel the story - adjusting the lens of focus and preoccupation to subtly call attention to narrative limits. The language was varied, reflective of the respective characters: innocent, playful 6-year old Kate, brilliant yet manic 12-year old Esau (his first chapter took place in a State h ...more
Jan 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I grew up in a city near Motley, Minn., where the book is set, and currently live 10 minutes away. That always adds to the intrigue of a book, when you know of the places the writer is describing in a more intimate way than other readers.
That being said, the story kept me reading, not only the setting. Although not what one would call a "page turner" in the traditional sense, the slow burn of the tale of Claire, Esau and Kate led me along without effort. It's beautifully written, and I don
Mae Black
Mar 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
You can tell by the writing it's another one of Hornbacher's books. She has her style. I feel she puts a part of her own self into each of the character. Kate as her intellectual side.. Kate being the youngest in the family but able to have great insight into things. Esau as the unstable side of her, with his episodes. And Claire as the adult side, the one who tries to hold things together, but albeit has a slight alcohol problem.
Overall a great read. Although difficult at times. Theres quotes
Bleak and tragic but, I think, honest. Very well written (I read the author's two memoirs first, and her writing really drew me in, and it was looking for other works by her that led me to this novel). It took me a while to get stuck into this book but I don't know if that was a personal motivation thing rather than anything to do with the book itself. I do wish that it would have gone on for a little while longer after the events at the very end, partly because I got kind of invested in Esau's ...more
Feb 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I haven’t loved a book this much in a long time. I wanted to crawl inside of it. I can’t decide who I loved the most, Esau or Kate. I understood Esau. And I loved Kate. I will probably read it again very soon, just to get it all right. Thank you, Marya.
Lori Jurek
Oct 18, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club
I ended up being very conflicted about this book. I didn't care at all for the writing style or characters for at least two-thirds of the book. Then, towards the end of the story, some of the writing was so raw and beautiful it made me cry. Ultimately, I'm glad I finished it.
Rona Lea
I liked the style of the reading. A different perspective from each character. Lots of troubled characters.
Jul 19, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I received an uncorrected proof copy years ago; the impression it left in me still holds firm after all this time.
Sarah Kirkpatrick
Pretty dark… I don’t recommend actually reading this book in Winter. J
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Marya Hornbacher published her first book, Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia (HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.), in 1998, when she was twenty-three. What started as a crazy idea suggested by a writer friend became the classic book that has been published in fourteen languages, is taught in universities and writing programs all over the world, and has, according to the thousands of letters Mar ...more
“We were at another funeral party. I wasn’t sure who had died this time, but it was a suicide, and upsetting because it was completely out of season. No on killed themselves in summertime. It was rude.” 12 likes
“I missed him so much that it felt like a physical pain in the area below my ribs. I opened my mouth to accommodate it. I put my hand to it. A hollow, aching, piercing place.” 3 likes
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