The Winter Vault
By Anne Michaels
(Knopf, Hardcover, 9780307270825, 352pp.)
Publication Date: April 21, 2009
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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 responsible for the dismantling and reconstruction of the temple as it’s rescued from the rising waters of the Aswan Dam. He is a “machine-worshipper,” yet exquisitely sensitive to the dichotomy of creation and destruction of which machines are capable. Jean is a botanist by avocation and passion, interested in everything that grows. They had met on the banks of the St. Lawrence River and watched together as the construction of the seaway changed the course of the river and swallowed towns, homes, lives. Now, at the edge of another world about to be lost forever, Avery and Jean create their own world, exchanging the “moments that are the mortar of our days, innocent memories we don’t know we hold until given the gift of the eagerness of another.”
But that gift will not be enough to bind them when tragedy strikes, and they will go back to separate lives in Toronto. Avery returns to school to study architecture, and Jean enters the life of Lucjan, a Polish émigré artist. Lucjan’s haunting stories of occupied Warsaw draw Jean further and further away from Avery. But, in time, he will also offer her the chance for forgiveness, consolation, and, finally, her own, most essential life.
Stunning in its explorations of both the physical and emotional worlds of its characters, intensely moving and lyrical, The Winter Vault is a radiant work of fiction.
Anne Michaels’s first novel was the international best seller Fugitive Pieces, now a major motion picture. It won several awards, including the Lannan Literary Award for Fiction, the Chapters/Books in Canada First Novel Award, the Guardian Fiction Award, and the Orange Prize for Fiction. Michaels is also the author of three highly acclaimed poetry collections. She lives in Toronto.
“Like its predecessor, The Winter Vault reads [with] breathtaking power . . . Art, nature, science, history, music, food, architecture, language, culture, faith and philosophy intertwine densely, receiving glorious due in what’s now recognizably Michaels’s tone, a near-preternatural alloy of calm and passion . . . With great compassion, Michaels captures the inevitability of shifting human fortunes.”
–San Francisco Chronicle
“Set aside your spring chores and cancel the rest of your plans when you pick up The Winter Vault . . . When you finish, you’ll want to turn back and read it all again . . . Unforgettable.”
“Anne Michaels crafts her novels with exquisite care . . . The Winter Vault is a densely packed repository. Read it for its scale of reference, its aching wisdom, its brutal beauty.”
–Kansas City Star
“The Winter Vault is clearly the work of a poet; every page quietly sparkles with metaphors that are often startlingly beautiful.”
“A graceful, melancholy new novel . . . [written] with the humane intelligence and lush language one might expect from the author of Fugitive Pieces . . . In The Winter Vault, with an art and precision like that of the builders she describes, Michaels constructs a bridge between two very different men . . . Michaels produces passages of lyrical beauty, and eloquently expresses her horror at human violence inflicted on the land and its inhabitants.”
“The long-awaited second novel by an award-winning Canadian poet and novelist explores the most intimate thoughts and longings of Avery and Jean Escher . . . Michaels’s skill is showcased in every well-chosen word of this luminous novel.”
“A deeply felt novel of ideas that explores loss, displacement, human connection and the ‘one or two organizing principles’ that inform an individual life . . . Michaels brings lost worlds to life [in] painfully beautiful prose.”
“A tender love story set against an intriguing bit of history is handled with uncommon skill . . . Michaels is especially impressive at making a rundown of construction materials or the contents of a market as evocative as the shared moments between two young lovers . . . An exquisite second novel.”
–Publishers Weekly (starred)
“An evocative story of loss and redemption . . . The Winter Vault is characterized by Michaels’s signature prose, lyric and sensual . . .Her gift for subtlety reverberates throughout the rest of the book as well . . . Like Fugitive Pieces, The Winter Vault deserves to be savoured on the tongue, like the date trees on the banks of the Nile at summer’s end.”
–The Walrus (Canada)
“Has it been worth the wait [since Fugitive Pieces]? It has . . . Anne Michaels, in short, is back . . . Think of The Arabian Nights, or the Odyssey, where characters incessantly tell stories about themselves and others; these are texts that carry whole cultures within themselves, and Michaels achieves something similar here . . . This is a book that proposes great themes: a critique of progress, an exploration of the nature of human suffering, an interrogation of the relationship between past and present. And yet, for all of that, it remains at bottom a deeply affecting love story . . . Beautifully written.”
–Globe and Mail (Canada)
“Every bit as ambitious, original and startling as its predecessor, which won prizes and international acclaim of the highest order . . . The novel’s wildly divergent settings and momentous events should make for a lack of cohesion, but they do not, not the way Michaels weaves them together, inside and out . . . At heart, The Winter Vault is a love story . . . The landscape [is] detailed with stunning clarity by Michaels, whose research is exhaustive and scrupulous . . . The Winter Vault is sumptuous writing[,] the way the morning sun on a garden is sumptuous, luminously, timelessly . . . Each image, each passage, each word is precisely, powerfully perfect . . . Its spiritual sweep is magnificent . . . The characters [are] transcendent . . . The Winter Vault’s real achievement, the fact that it makes poetry–in the purest, most powerful sense of the word–of the novel form it inhabits . . . In clumsier hands, such boldness of vision could be disastrous. In the hands of Anne Michaels, it is sublime . . . Moving and utterly engaging.”
–The Ottawa Citizen
“Unfailingly eloquent . . . Michaels locates wrenching poignancy in the prosaic details and emotional fallout of forced displacement . . . It is a book that exudes the compulsive readability that only happens when an assured writer gets full grip on a compelling theme and explores it unsparingly.”
–The Montreal Gazette
“Much more than mere adornment, the heightened language fulfils Michaels’ ambitious intentions: to inflect our understanding of culture’s interactions with nature, and to immerse her characters–and her readers–in the effects of the cruel dispersals wreaked by 20th-century European history. The novel’s elegantly shaped plot turns on two enormous relocations . . . One of the novel’s most telling powers is to successfully embed these twinned narratives within the central relationship of the two major characters . . . Like Michael Ondaatje, Michaels has found a fictional voice and vocation where her poetry is also at home. Her readers might become more humane and loving for it.”
–Winnipeg Free Press