Read The Winter Vault by Anne Michaels Online


Set in Canada and Egypt, and with flashbacks to England and Poland after the war, The Winter Vault is a spellbinding love story that juxtaposes momentous historical events with the most intimate moments of individual lives.In 1964, a newly married Canadian couple settle into a houseboat on the Nile just below Abu Simbel. At the time of the building of the Aswam dam, AverySet in Canada and Egypt, and with flashbacks to England and Poland after the war, The Winter Vault is a spellbinding love story that juxtaposes momentous historical events with the most intimate moments of individual lives.In 1964, a newly married Canadian couple settle into a houseboat on the Nile just below Abu Simbel. At the time of the building of the Aswam dam, Avery Escher is one of the engineers responsible for the dismantling and reconstruction of a sacred temple, a “machine-worshipper” who is nonetheless sensitive to their destructive power. Jean is a botanist by avocation, passionately interested in everything that grows. They met on the banks of the St. Lawrence River, witnessing the construction of the Seaway as it swallowed towns, homes, and lives. Now, at the edge of another world about to be inundated in the name of progress, much of what they most believe in is tested.When a tragic event occurs, nearing the end of Avery’s time in Egypt, he and Jean return to separate lives in Toronto; Avery to school to study architecture and Jean into the orbit of Lucjan, a Polish émigré artist whose haunting tales of occupied Warsaw pull her further from her husband, while offering her the chance to assume her most essential life....

Title : The Winter Vault
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780771058905
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 336 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

The Winter Vault Reviews

  • Violet wells
    2019-01-02 11:13

    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 talking encyclopaedias. She tends to give them the entire crop of her research on any given subject, in the form of long uninterrupted monologues. The same was true of Fugitive Pieces, the other book of hers I’ve read. On the one hand she does a good job of conveying how much excitement and enlightenment she gets from her research; on the other the novel becomes less an act of storytelling and more like a lecture. Sometimes it can feel like she has too possessive a grip on her material and doesn’t give her characters any freedom to breath, to develop beyond her intellectual construction of them. She constantly breaks two of the cardinal rules of novel writing – she tells instead of shows and makes little attempt to alchemise her research into narrative dramatization. At times it reminded me of her Canadian compatriot Jane Urquhart with the relentless duplication of symbolic imagery. She gives us so many examples of the demoralisation inherent in the displacement and rebuilding of a community that it sometimes felt she was shouting in her attempt to make her point. This was especially true when she brings in the reconstruction of Warsaw after the war to parallel the displacement of the villagers as the result of the Aswan dam in Egypt and a Canadian community as the result of the construction of the St Lawrence seaway. The sexual politics in this novel are sometimes like a throwback to the 19th century. We have a passive female (a passionate but amateur botanist) who is good at listening, far too good for her own wellbeing, and two men who love the sound of their own voice. In my experience men who relentlessly hold forth are controlling men. Doesn’t matter how knowledgeable or interesting they are. Talk taken to extremes can be a form of dictatorship. I found it strange that Michaels idealises and romanticises this kind of relationship. Jean, the female lead in the novel, constantly frustrated me. The catalytic event of the novel in personal terms is the stillborn birth of her baby girl. The most contrived and forced part of the novel follows when she leaves her husband for a man who tells her about his experiences in Warsaw during and after the war. His narrative itself is fascinating and compelling but it’s all a bit too conveniently relevant intellectually which renders it clumsy emotionally and artistically. In a nutshell I enjoyed the writing a lot more than I enjoyed the rather overly contrived clunky artistry of this novel. It’s the kind of book that makes you realise there’s more to a brilliant novel than beautiful writing and thematic unity. Perhaps there’s too much intellect here and not enough imaginative and emotional empathy. As a result the characters come across as constructs rather than living human beings. The writing though is often so good it makes it well worth reading.

  • Gemma
    2019-01-01 14:45

    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 gripping you with its storyline. After the removal of the temple there are several other narrated incidents of displacement and rebuilding, the most memorable of which is the rebuilding of Warsaw after the war. The question it asks, taking its lead from the dead child, is can we replace what is taken from us. Recommended if you like beautiful writing; not so much if you need compelling storytelling.

  • Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
    2019-01-20 13:02

    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, the window open to the rain, roofs black and shining, a crack of sunset. In this rainy blackness and this unexpected last light, the scattering of birds just before dark, both felt a new kind of desire, inseparable from the city. Inseparable from London, January 1964. The desire experienced in unfamiliar streets, one's body never more known by another."I stared at this paragraph. I asked myself: how can a human being write like this, when she's just telling us that it's January 1964, the lovers lying on a bed inside the borrowed bedroom of a cousin (Owen), watching the dusk from the window?Beauty everywhere, poetry even in the most mundane!--"Brown birds lined the eaves of the vault roof. They balanced on the edge, small dark stones against the sky, now marbled grey: dusk."Then, she just wants to share with you a word she has learned. She not only gives the word and it's meaning. She lays down the word like it is a plaintive song--"I've been reading about the rain...That utterly distinctive smell, when rain first starts to fall--two scientists have analyzed it. They've named it 'petrichor' from the Greek for stone and for the 'blood' that flows through the veins of the gods. It's the scent of an oil produced by plants partially decomposed, undergoing oxidation and nitration, a combination of three compounds. The first raindrops reach into stone or pavement and release this plant oil, which we smell as it is washed away. We can only smell it as it is washed away."We can only smell it as it is washed away. Like life. You can only live it as it passes away. Petrichor.May I add: this is a love story. It can't get any more wicked than this.

  • Fionnuala
    2019-01-17 14:04

    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. Michaels linked this theme of destruction of entire communities to the invasion of Poland by the Germans and the Russians but that part worked less well for me.

  • Friederike Knabe
    2019-01-02 13:11

    Review from May 2009Not 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-World War II reconstruction of Warsaw's Old City - and centred more on the people who have been involved in these constructions or those who have been impacted by the resulting changes. In rich poetic prose, the author interweaves the intimate experiences and musings of her protagonists with broad societal questions and her own philosophical reflections.The story begins in 1964 when the ancient Abu Simbel temple complex in Upper Egypt needed to be carved up and moved block by block, through a complicated process, to higher ground, to protect it from the impending flood waters of the dam. Avery Escher, a British engineer, is overseeing this delicate operation. His relevant experience stems from his training through his father during the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway. Avery is a practical, forward looking man, who can only imagine positive change emerging from such major redesigning efforts. His young wife Jean, having grown up in that region of Canada, had a different perspective on the project, and as a result is less convinced of the potential benefits of change for the affected people. She is also concerned with the need to preserve what was there, such as the local flora and fauna.What brought those two very different people together, other than some parallel aspects in their personal lives? In Michaels' sensitive portraits they come across as complementary soul mates rather than passionate lovers "... at what moment during their years together had this woman... become Jean Escher? He knew it had nothing to do with marriage, not even with sex, but somehow had to do with all this talking they achieved together." And talking to each other they do, indeed! Much of their background is revealed through back story sharing. From the beginning, though, Michaels gives Avery the more prominent voice; strongly influenced by his father, he is grounded in his convictions, confident in his actions. Jean is an excellent and beautiful listener following Avery's story while her own reflections are more easily kept to herself than expressed to her mate.Their dissimilar characters are well explored through their differing reactions to the Abu Simbel project and the visit of an abandoned Nubian village. The author takes great care to convey the beauty of the place, the romantic atmosphere on the one hand and, on the other, the deep pain that those who had to leave it must have experienced. While Jean feels for the refugees and the loss of their ancient history and of their natural environment, Avery prefers to see the positive side of new beginnings: the life that buildings can emanate. His perspective of "home" is that is something that we create over time and not the place where we were born or grew up. "Home is our first real mistake. It is the one error that changes everything... It is from this moment that we begin to build our home in the world. It is this place that we furnish with smell, taste, a talisman, a name."The couple's fundamentally different mind-sets come to the fore when tragedy strikes them to the core. They return to Canada to struggle with the fallout in their own, separate ways. What is striking right away in this second part of the novel is that, apparently, the "talking they achieved together" and that had cemented their relationship, is no longer an adequate tool for dealing with the crisis. Avery quietly fades into the background while the focus is on Jean as she attempts to reclaim her poise. Can she change sufficiently to succeed in her efforts? There are questions that linger.It is at this point that, rather unexpectedly, the third successful architectural construction project is woven into the narrative. Using the same technique as earlier - personal flashbacks - timelines appear to be deliberately blurred, as the author's focus is as much on the devastating impact of occupation, destruction and dictatorships (Nazi and Soviet) on the population of Warsaw as on the reconstruction itself. Again, Michaels expands into opposing philosophical positions: faithful restoration of historical sites as a positive step to reclaim the past vs. any restoration of historical places defined as fake and therefore fundamentally wrong.Michaels delves into a range of fundamental themes, such as human suffering due to displacement, loss of cultural roots and identity, the needs of the many over the rights of the few - the Nubians vs. the Aswan Dam, etc. Yet, she is first and foremost a poet. Her language and imagery is often impressionistic, leaving the reader to interpret the meaning and, even more so - not always successfully - to attempt linking poetic phrases to the novel's depicted realities and characters. At times, Michaels interweaves her own musings, and while we can admire her power of words, it can also distract the reader away from the narrative flow.The two parts of the novel could easily be treated as stand-alone novellas, linked loosely through Jean as the consistently present protagonist throughout. Whether Michaels brings the novel and the story of Avery and Jean convincingly to a close in the short third section has to be left to the reader to find out. For this reader, a number of issues remain unresolved. It is evident also that the author's overriding preoccupation in this novel is not to produce a plot driven or character-based story, but to open the reader's mind to important and existential topics, even if they at times swell beyond the confines of a more traditional novel. [Friederike Knabe]

  • Isla McKetta
    2019-01-14 13:06

    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 husband so long ago and that helped me understand the beauty and fullness of what was happening in this new phase of our relationship. I've heard it said that no marriage in literature can be a happy one, and Avery and Jean are confronted with a loss that divides them, but it does not divide the book and the ways they continue to relate and to love are an equally important part of the story.Building on recurring themes of creation and simulacra in the wake of destruction, this novel created for me a sensation of deepening understanding as I encountered loud thematic echoes and subtler inferences throughout. Even tiny technical details of the transplantation of Abu Simbel, though woven into a beautiful story, reinforce these themes.Michaels is first a poet and she re-imagines each sentence so that it is at once unique and seemingly effortless. It is a joy to read about new and familiar subjects and to follow her curious mind as she describes the genesis of wheat and the varieties of palms.Portions of this book and the general structure recall Fugitive Pieces, which I also loved, but The Winter Vault is in most ways a very different story and perhaps one with a wider audience. This is a good book for the curious mind and for anyone who has ever loved deeply and lost. I'm not ready to part with it yet. Perhaps as I read it again I will fall even more deeply in love. If so, I'll spare you the details.

  • Shane
    2019-01-15 11:57

    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 describing the objects in an open-air marketplace, or the types of maps in existence at the time, or in identifying the variety of birds that populated the flood zone.The story line is sparse: engineer Avery meets botanist Jean, they have a still-born child; botanist leaves engineer, finds solace with an émigré painter, Lucjan, whose life experiences in wartime Poland are so extreme that botanist runs back to engineer. There is also a weaving of extraneous detail of the main characters’ parents and their lives, which tends to overpower and deflect from the central story.The theme of loss and displacement that Avery and Jean go through with the death of their child is contrasted against the wider loss and displacement of entire communities to accommodate mega engineering projects like the building of the St Lawrence Seaway and the Aswan Dam, and the wanton destruction and alteration of Poland during WWII to accommodate the Nazi expansion, and later, the Soviets. Avery and Jean are restorers by profession: he moves temples and others buildings in the line of flood to safer ground, and she replants indigenous and rare plants which are under the same threat, but they are each challenged when having to transplant and transform their own lives in the face of loss.The dialogue runs on for long passages of recounting by Avery, Jean or Lucjan and is somewhat artificial. There are also long sections of philosophical discussion by these three, which I thought unnecessary. What happened to “show don’t tell?”That said, the language is beautiful and the author’s poetic prowess shines in this area, and reading some of the passages made me abandon my “work” load to simply revel in the poetry. Lines like “Language is approximate, violence is precise,” or “Everything we do is false consolation, or any consolation is true,” made me reflect, long after I put this book down. And the anecdotal descriptions of the destruction of Warsaw will live long in my mind.Having limped to the end and bested my peers who had given up in the attempt, I paused to ask a couple of questions:1) While a poet has a reader for a few minutes at a time with her poem, and can therefore take the attitude of “figure this out if you wish, I don’t really care, I write what comes to me,” can a novelist take that same approach?2) Is there an obligation on the part of the novelist—despite taking detours into metaphor, lyrical language and rich research—to also tell a story that flows easily for the reader?If the answers to the above are Yes and No in sequence, then I think Anne Michaels has succeeded brilliantly. If the answers are reversed, then she gets a failing grade. And of course, if there are no clear answers, which I suspect is the case, given that the form of the novel continues to evolve, I give her my three stars.

  • Nicole Beaudry
    2019-01-01 12:10

    This is nigh on sacrilegious, but I may just prefer this toFugitive 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.

  • Maia
    2018-12-30 14:53

    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 poets. We often make the mistake of believing that a) a poet and a prose writer must necessarily be the same thing, or b) poetry is somehow a higher form of art than prose and therefore a poet, when attempting a novel must necessarily do so with greatness. And this is rarely if ever true. In my mind, it's closer, to say, painting and filmmaking. Even Sylvia Plath--who desperately always wanted to write The Great American Novel--didn't succeed with 'The Bell Jar' as she did in poetry.So this novel: some lovely writing, some acute lyricisms, some wonderful metaphors and bell-ringing language and gorgeous words and even incredible ideas--but never quite a novel. The protagonists aren't entirely believable, the early times in their marriage seem 'an idea' more than a reality, the tragedy that destroy it does not appear to occur organically but rather as an authorial imposition in order to continue with said ideas, and, in the end, the narrative never comes alive. The Holocoust theme--which is clearly a big topic for the writer--has been done better and more originally elsewhere. Perhaps Michaels has something fresh to say about it in her poetry--which I have not read--but certainly not here.I was unsurprised to find that many responded as I did at our bookclub meeting.

  • Robyn
    2018-12-27 06:58

    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 or agonizing about the past - these musings don't add up to a story, necessarily, but they do add up to a life, or what constitutes a marriage. What this novel lacks in plot, Michaels makes up for with her attention to words, meanings and feelings, and I didn't mind the lack of plot because I found the writing so beautiful.

  • Andrew Mcleod
    2019-01-18 07:45

    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, some of Dylan Thomas's poems were considered inexplicable. Someone once offered a prize for anybody who could interpret the Thomas poem which began 'If my head hurt a hair's foot...'. But then a critic supplied the possible (and likely) answer that the words are spoken by the fetus in utero before birth. So it could be with Michaels. It may not be easy to understand what she is getting at... But I have to say it sounds like poetic twaddle.p5. "It would no longer be a temple". So what - it has not been a working temple for 3000+ years anyway!p6. Flowery stuff! Deliberately flowery vocabulary, e.g. 'man-grown'.p51. " the Hebrides, where sea and sky are driven wild by the scent of land" This sounds like typical female poetic 'Pseuds Corner' stuff. For those of you not from the UK, Pseuds Corner is a section of the satirical magazine Private Eye that sends up pretentious prose and journalism.p57. "After a very long time". Why a very long time? Why not a long time. Poetic tautology.p62. "cuffs". In UK - turnupsp78 "braid". Ditto. In UK - pigtailp84. This is good. I'm sure that this is what architects would like to feel that they have planned for, but most of what happens in a building is chance and unplanned.p133 Paras 2,3,4. What rubbish!p137. A theme emerges. Displacement. Personal tragedy. (Michaels is Jewish.)The relocation of the villages. A parallel with the cutting up and relocation of the temple. Soon to be a comparison on an extended scale, with the rebuilding of Warsaw.p144. Michaels is getting confused with the TV series. It is not Greys' Anatomy, it is Gray's Anatomy, as in Henry Gray (1825-1861), known to generations of medical students.p174-6. What is the purpose of the old man? It seems to be to transmit an external philosophy about fate and destiny. Seems a bit wishy-washy to me.Oh dear. The baby episode. Parallel with destruction externally. The destruction of living things. Incisions in the rock. Incisions in Jean's body. So what? Get on with life, dear.p183. Last paragraph. Can you explain this please?Part 2. The Separationp196. The planting... I think psychologists call this 'displacement activity'. Then we are into more painting and Lucjan, Lucjan's story, autobiographical, in Warsaw 1945 et seq.p233. The rebuilding of Warsaw, as a facsimile, just like Abu Simbel. Jean says this is "a false consolation". OK - true in Warsaw's terms - it could have been changed, but Abu Simbel either had to go or to be moved and saved - it's a little different.p239. The Rembrandt identifies it as the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto absolutely.p241. The winter vaults and bodies awaiting burial. First mention.p252. "Synchronized swim of chordal progression and bent sound". Good image. I think this is the best writing in the book - the descriptions of the band.p272, and before, and after. What the **** is Jean doing with Lucjan anyway? Is it Avery or Jean who wanted the separation? It wasn't clear to me, but I didn't much care anyway because they were such wimpy characters! The painting on her back in the first few pages I found pretentious and rather unlikely. I am sure that you will respond with lots of answers about the decoration of the human body, but if he was such a good painter why not get some canvas, paper, or perhaps original papyrus (we believe that papyrus first came from this region, don't we?) and preserve his wonderful works for posterity.p287. Use of painful holocaust images. Oh no not again. An easy trick to get sympathy.p308. Muzak. Is that story true? I can't find any confirmatory evidence.p320. Yes OK very poetic but do I understand this? No.p319. para 5. Realisation of her mission - to have Avery's child.p321. Ewa's bicycle. Jean is a 'stranger at the feast', a 'Ginny come lately' and this allows Jean out. Thank heavens. We've got to find out whether she and Avery (both of them wimps) can get it together!Part III. Petrichor. Thank heavens. Nearly finished.p327-8. Para 3. Hmmmm. Fanciful crap.p332. Bottom half of page. Oh dear! What nonsense.p335. Last para. Oh dear oh dear! Please let's open a Labatt's and put on a hockey game..Final CommentsOne could write a lot of portentous analysis of this book, and many readers on Goodreads pages have done just that, but quite a lot of reviewers seem to have seen through it. I'm sure that at a lot of author and audience meetings this happens and probably goes on in a navel gazing manner for hours. Frankly I don't think it is worth that depth of exploration.There are many things for women in this book, that are meant to tug at the heartstrings, and I will be most interested to know if a women's book club group felt deeply about it and were deeply affected by it. I will await the feedback from my wife's group:1. Early loss of a parent - both protagonists2. The need to follow the career of one's husband. The subjugation if you like.3. Pregnancy and stillbirth4. Husband's realisation that he is in the wrong job and his single-minded self absorption in following his new path.5. Lucjan, a father figure, a father confessor, and although a lover, a very discreetly presented one, so that one feels eventually that it will be sort of OK for Jean to go back to her husband.She obviously needed to get the holocaust off her chest, as so many have, and to use it as a major part of the novel.Finally. Why the 'Winter Vault'? Is this where her husband's body is stored for the second half of the novel until he comes to life again and she can join him? I am sure that lots of book club devotees will love to discuss this topic.Sorry, but as you may have gathered, I didn't think this was a great book. Unfortunately I had just read the whole of the Millenium Trilogy (Stieg Larsson), and poor old Jean and Avery just can't hold a candle to the characters of Mikael Blomqvist and Lisbeth Salander!

  • Mila
    2019-01-17 08:48

    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 help adding my own comments, questions and thoughts to it. Marvellous!) What a great start into the New Year, book-wise. :)

  • Natalie
    2019-01-20 06:49

    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? Because the night before I'd read in The Winter Vault about the displacement of people caused by the St. Lawrence Seaway between Montreal and Lake Ontario (1959) and by the Aswan Dam project ten years later in Egypt (1970). Serendipitous things happen to me when reading (see my review of Hypnotizing Maria) but this coincidental reading of The Winter Vault was so downright timely freaky that frankly the coincidence was bigger than the story for me. Why not rate it higher? The imagery is evocative and the language is quote-worthy but the structure was disjoint and one of my favorite characters, Marina, and her relationship with the protagonists was left behind too quickly for my taste and that unbalanced the whole thing for me.

  • Shirley
    2019-01-20 06:47

    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."This iwas a hard book, but well worth it.

  • Spotsalots
    2019-01-04 14:05

    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 with that assessment on two counts, the first being that the dictum "show, don't tell" is idiotic since each has its place in good writing, and secondly I would say that this is a novel that conveys its development much more by showing than by telling.

  • Kirsty
    2019-01-15 10:08

    In hindsight, I wish I'd started my reading of Anne Michaels' work with Fugitive Pieces, or some of her poetry. The Winter Vault is historically and geographically rich; so much so that it read like a non-fiction work at times. The characters were well-developed and had believable backstories; I just failed to find any emotional connection with them. There was a definite distancing with the choice of narrative voice, and whilst the writing and ideas were lovely on the whole, the whole simply wasn't quite as vivid as I was anticipating.

  • Emi Bevacqua
    2019-01-22 13:03

    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 this book.

  • Belinda Waters
    2018-12-31 12:44

    I couldn't finish this book. I picked it up this morning and read another 20 pages and I just can't take anymore....

  • Laura J
    2019-01-03 06:43

    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.

  • Elizabeth
    2018-12-27 06:55

    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, even if it is creative.That is exactly the problem with Anne Michaels' The Winter Vault-- something about it is just off. The words all go together in beautiful order, lining up and falling into place with imagery that makes sense, but when compiled only make an enormous pile of pretty phrases. Not entirely unexpected for a poet, but still disappointing.The novel follows the story of Avery and Jean, a Canadian newlywed couple come to the Nile valley to help with the relocation of Abu Simbel in order to build the Great Aswan Dam. Avery is an engineer and a "machine worshipper," whose mind works in a whirl of cogs and gears into a perfectly oiled machine. Jean, on the other hand, is a botanist, interested only in the growth of the exotic plants of the Egyptian river valley and the destruction that the dam is going to do to them. Tragedy unfolds and pulls the couple apart as they go back to the cold north, where Jean becomes involved with a Polish immigrant named Lucjan and Avery tries to get on with his life. Instead, they find that they're still caught up irretrievably in one another.Unfortunately, the novel is not told nearly so cleanly. First, Michaels does away with all that "chapter" rubbish that us readers have been clinging to since the Dark Ages, replacing it with short sections that have no notation of time. This might have been fine if they didn't attempt T.S. Eliot-style time jumps, lurching back and forth between the past so suddenly that the reader is left seasick before twenty pages are past.Avery and Jean's relationship, while soft and gentle in some places, is eyebrow-raisingly strange in others. For one, they always seem to end up talking about their parents in their spare seconds between cuddles, and is constantly interrupted by poetic epiphanies. From my experiences in the real world, poetry is the last thing that comes to my mind when I'm on a date.The biggest, greyest, most awkward elephant in the room here is the language. Now, I'm pretty lenient about poetry in fiction-- after all, Homer and Shakespeare were both great novelists and poets-- but this book crosses the line into illegibility after awhile. Drowned in turns of phrase and tropes, the real thoughts of the characters become lost in the prose, and they become mere red blood cells for the oxygen of Michaels poetic thought. She ought to stick to poetry if she wants to make points about life without developing characters into human beings that her readers can relate to.Not to say that the poetry is not breathtaking; Michaels clearly has talent as a writer. There are phrases and paragraphs that are deeply moving, thought provoking, and memorable, each clearly meditated and contemplatively written. Too bad they're just in the wrong place at the wrong time in the wrong book.(On an unrelated note, ever read a novel by a Canadian? Americans with a penchant for foreign dialects will enjoy the Joyce-style quotations and the spellings of words like "tonne" and "colour.")Some of the greatest books known to bibliophiles are those rife with beautiful phrasing, flowing with the deepest thoughts of their writers. And yet, they still create between those words the characters that have taken root so deeply in our hearts that they become inseparable from our very souls-- in other words, they are a part of us. That is the mark of truly good fiction: as Mr. Nabokov says, "the merging of the precision of poetry with the intuition of science." The Winter Vault is available on the Kindle for $11.99, or $14.50 in hardback from Amazon. A copy was logged away in the back shelves of my local library, so unless your local branch has one, I wouldn't advise going and looking for it. The language is worth a glance, but no more than if you pick it up on the coffee table and read a page or two.

  • switterbug (Betsey)
    2018-12-29 08:52

    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 a lyric and a music of everything that is nascent to life, as well as everything that withstands it, crushes it, beholds it--and it is this instrument that carries the memory of love, light, space, and grief. The bones of the story are the ashes of the earth, and the compost of the earth imbue the bones of the story.On this poignant first page is written "Grief is desire in its purest distillation." I did not initially comprehend this and thought it was a pithy but obtuse statement. However, as I continued to read, it evolved into a meaningful, trenchant theme that coursed through every facet of the novel. Like many of the seemingly elusive cogitations contained in this book, it leads to a profound examination of human nature. Every tragedy in the book is borne from desire, and every desire has a lasting relationship with grief.Avery is a young and able engineer, the son of a deceased but once preeminent engineer, who passionately wants to preserve and continue his father's great legacy. In 1964, Avery is charged with heading an operation in Egypt to remove an ancient temple in embedded rock and placing it on higher ground. In order to do this, they must build a cofferdam, which will displace and flood water temporarily into the water of the adjoining village. The removal of the relics of the temple is an exacting process. One millimeter off in measurement and the relics can be ruined, cracked beyond redemption.This project requires that the Nubian villagers be moved from their homes--these indigenous people who have a deep and native history with this place--and displaced to a new location. Avery's wife, Jean, a botanist who loves to carry seeds from the places of the dead to new ground, and who reveres the natural world, is disquieted by the project, but supportive of her husband's philosophy of man and machinery working together to lofty purposes. But, when personal tragedy and a glitch in the project gouges the foundation of their bond, their ability to find solace with each other is shattered and they must journey alone to find each other again.I am not a scholar who can deconstruct this novel into all its meanings, only a reader who engaged with this enigmatic story. I may have failed to assemble or pinpoint or break it down for a potential reader reading this review. What I can tell you is that this is an atypical story written in poetical prose. It is not a pretentious rambling or unfathomable masquerade. You must pay attention and let it wash over you, read it slowly or read it out loud (I found myself doing this at intervals), surrender to the indefinite and its mien. At some point, you will abdicate need and expectation and just succumb to it. I have not read another novel that examines grief with such awakening, and that finds such incipient stems of rebirth in human suffering, all by combining and enfolding the essence of humans, nature, and machinery into folds of memory. Once you capitulate to its montage, it assembles into the most breathtaking convocation of gestures--gestures that encompass everything, and cascade like the butterfly effect.

  • Aban (Aby)
    2019-01-15 10:11

    The Winter Vault is a difficult book to evaluate: at the beginning I would have given it 5 stars, in the middle and later part I would have lowered my rating to 3 stars, and by the end it was back up to 4 or 5. At the center of the novel are Avery Escher and his wife Jean. Avery, an English engineer is responsible for the moving of the temple at Abu Simbel to higher ground, in order to save it during the building of the Aswan Dam. Jean is Canadian and met Avery when he was involved in the building of the St. Lawrence Seaway. Their loving relationship is sorely challenged when their baby is still-born. They return to separate lives in Toronto: Avery to university to study architecture, Jean to a new relationship with Lucjan, an artist from Poland. The book ends with Avery and Jean finding their way back to each other.There were aspects of the book that at times I loved and, at other times, found difficult or frustrating. This is especially true of the plot and of Michael's style of writing.I loved the plot structure in the first half of the book, and the parallels Michaels draws between the construction of the Aswan Dam and the St. Lawrence Seaway, both involving the destruction of homes and a way of life for the people living in regions about to be flooded. (You can feel the author's empathy for those people.) However, the second part of the book has an entirely different setting, this time Toronto and, through Lucjan's memories, Warsaw at the time if the Second World War and immediately after. I felt that dividing of the book into two, completely separate, parts made it lack cohesion.Throughout the book Anne Michael's language is lyrical and beautiful. After all, she IS a poet! Much as I appreciated her style, there were times when she was so poetic and abstract that I had difficulty following her train of thought. I had to read, and reread, some passages in order for them to make sense. I must confess, I found this extremely frustrating at times!While I empathized with the characters, and found them fascinating, I was not emotionally involved with them, especially with Jean - I felt like shaking her at times! I also wondered at her willingness to abandon Avery for a lover, without a thought for Avery's anguish. Some of the minor characters were memorable: Avery's mother, the old man at the hospital who reached out to comfort Jean.The whole novel reminded me of very delicate, somewhat abstract, watercolour paintings that overlap and blur and leave one wondering what exactly one is seeing. The secret is to look very carefully, and to read the novel with thought and perseverance In order to penetrate the author's meaning. Would I recommend this novel? If you want a quick, easy, read - it's not for you. If you are willing to put in the time and effort, then it is definitely worthwhile. Happy reading!

  • Jeannie Mckinney
    2019-01-11 09:01

    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 recounting of the building of the dam and the aftermath of such a thing.The recounting of the devestation of Poland was hard to read because of its clarity although it was necessarily so emotional, told by Jean's lover who lived - if it could be called that - through such horror.I find it hard to fault - and am reluctant to say any word against - this book, because it was almost to perfection and was a story needing to be told to the world, even if descriminating readers (well, I like to think I am one) and not politicians and world leaders will be its beneficiaries. If I am honest with my reading and writing of it, it was almost too realistic. Like The Poisonwood Bible, although disturbing and devestating in its revelations of humans and human events and uplifting in its beauty of words and many of its characters, it was not a book that I could not put down. No. It was a book that I must put down sometimes. Give myself time to recover from the pain the characters endured. Then go back and again read until the point of emotional saturation. But it was not a book that could not be read until the very end. No. Although I would recomend one intersperse other books, as I found myself doing, this is one that you will go back to until the very end.

  • Rosana
    2019-01-10 10:12

    For years I had been waiting for Anne Michaels to write this book. I loved her first novel, Fugitive Pieces, and wanted to read more of her work. Or, more precisely, wanted her to write more “Fugitive Pieces”. In a twisted way, I got exactly what I wanted... and I feel disappointed about it! All the elements of her first work are present in The Winter Vault: the poetic and intricate writing; the historical and geological research; characters that dwell in a philosophical cosmos beyond that of the majority; the question of how individuals survive unimaginable loss. Yet, while Fugitive Pieces seemed at the time- I want to now re-read it to confirm it – lyrical and dense on the same doses, there was a profound beauty in the character’s search for meaning and emotional survival after the horrors that they suffered and witnessed. In The Winter Vault, though, I failed to connect to the character in the same way. Their pain and philosophical intensity seems exaggerate. I don’t want to diminish the pain of their loss, but I felt manipulate by the author. And her writing, which still carries a most poetic voice, seemed too studied. Then, I felt tired of the profound and pensive messages in every page. I do love that a book tells me truths outside the direct realm of the plot, but when those are delivered every thirty lines of so, I cannot avoid feeling weary of it. I am considering now to read some of Anne Michaels poetry. Poetry was her first medium, and I have a feeling that she excels at it, as the intensity of her writing would be more suited to poems than to fiction.

  • Tim Newcomb
    2019-01-10 12:48

    I enjoyed Fugitive Pieces more than The Winter Vault. FP felt more coherent with better character development. But the same use of poetic devices adapted to novel format that made Fugitive Pieces stand out make The Winter Vault a piece of art as well. Michaels uses hundreds of parallels and metaphors to capture emotions difficult to express and weaves them into the broader story. Her writing is emotionally dense like poetry; it's closer to reading Leave of Grass than Tender is the Night. A more robust, modern day Antoine de Saint-Exupery. Every paragraph requires ruination. Sometimes the syntax is so complex it sounds like another language. As in Fugitive Pieces, the characters go through a full range of emotions including the fleeting minutiae that goes on a a person's head throughout the day. Michaels explains the decisions of the characters not by the events that happened to the character or the characters personality, but by the smallest thoughts that led them to it. he poetic use of metaphors gives you a deeper sense of the characters on the microscopic level- the minute-by-minute thought processes that guide them to decisions.  Instead of "his pain led him to do A, B and C", Michaels shows you the nuances of thought which shapes the character's path. The semi-stream-of-consciousness and third-person omniscient view is an uncommon narrative technique.  Great read for a rainy day.

  • Ruth Seeley
    2019-01-03 08:53

    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 benefit from the creation of realistic characters rather than - well - they're not even stereotypes, they're amorphous but intense implausibilities really....Some of the passages that struck me:'In your misery you confuse fate with destiny. Fate is dead, it's death. Destiny is liquid, alive like a bird. There are consequences and there is mystery; and sometimes they look the same. All your self-knowledge won't bring you any peace. Seek something else. One can never forgive oneself anyway - it takes another person to forgive, and for that you could wait forever.''"Grief bakes in us, it bakes until one day the blade pushes in and comes out clean."''Regret is not the end of the story; it is the middle of the story.'

  • Teresa Mills-clark
    2018-12-25 08:44

    I'm still a little spellbound by this author ... the novel was one to be savoured. As much as I was enthralled, I also needed to put it down and let it "steep" and "seep" into my mind. To me, a good book is one which must always be engaging. A great book is one which challenges how I perceive things, offers alternative perspectives and raises my awareness of Issue(s) either new or revisited. The author wrote factually in a lyrical style. No mean feat. The following is an excerpt by way of an example, I will leave out the name of the character so as not to spoil the story, calling the character "X":"The word love, X had said, is it not always breaking down into other things? Into bitterness,yearning, jealousy - all the parts of the whole. Maybe there's a better word, something too simple to become anything else.But what word could be so incorruptible? she had asked. What word so infallible?And "X", to whom words were a moral question, had said: tenderness."

  • Tiffany
    2019-01-02 12:52

    3.5It'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 those great sentences together and it seemed so ... kitschy? overblown? totally emo to the point where you can't help just rolling your eyes already? I'm not sure what it is, and it's perplexing. I haven't felt this disturbed by literary ambivalence since Choke by Chuck Palahniuk. Whatever, not going to analyze further. Maybe it was the mood I was in. Reviews can be as arbitrary as that.

  • Ann
    2019-01-22 11:53

    I took my time reading this novel because it was so rich with zen koan-like phrases that made me stop and contemplate. Even with all the start and stop, I still felt connected to the main characters and the forward motion of their story. I was fascinated by the book's interwoven stories of displacement (whole towns that were displaced when the St. Lawrence Seaway was built in Canada, thousand of Nubian villagers who lost their homes and civilization when the Aswan Dam flooded the Nile to form Lake Nassar, people who fled their homes to escape the Nazis). I cared about these remnants of history because of Avery and Jean's love story and how their experience of Avery's working on both the St. Lawrence and Aswan Dam ultimately helped them heal after their own loss.I underlined on almost every page because of the insights and incredibly beautiful language and images that will stay with me.

  • Deborah Stevenson
    2019-01-17 08:03

    This is a tough one! I have vacillated between loving this book and despairing that I had to read another page. It felt heavy, from the theme, to the prose, to the characters movements. The characters felt unreal to me, so complex yet so simple at the same time that they didn't ring true. Does anyone really go thru life as these characters spending so much time on introspection? If so how do these people have any time for the day to day nuts and bolts of living?I have 16 post it notes attached for my book club which mean it spoke to me somehow but still digesting. Pretentious might be a good description. Have noted that most people who have already reviewed either loved or hated it. Doesn't seem to be much middle ground. Found it so depressing so much of the way thru but sometimes one just likes to wallow which this certainly encouraged.