Two recent reads – one prose, one poetry

A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale

This was our book group read for August, which we discussed earlier this week – and we scored yet another hit! I certainly loved this novel, and although not all in the group quite shared my enthusiasm for it, everyone seemed to enjoy it. Often, when we all feel the same way about a book, we can find little to discuss, but Patrick Gale gave us plenty. This will be a short write-up, as I’ve passed my copy on and don’t have it to hand.

The story of an unfulfilled gentleman, forced by circumstances, both financial and scandalous, to leave his wife and daughter and emigrate to Canada where he becomes a homesteader in Saskatchewan, Gale’s protagonist Harry’s story is based upon that of one of his relatives. This gives A Place Called Winter a personal touch that shines through in Gale’s absorbing writing. Harry is set up there by a chap he meets on the voyage over – Troels Munck – who turns out to be a nasty villain. However, Harry’s acres neighbour those of brother and sister Paul and Petra, who had also been clients of Munck. Harry will unite with them, in more ways than one to trump Troels. However, the London and Canadian sections are interspersed with chapters set in an insane asylum, where we find Harry – eventually we’ll discover why he’s there.

We felt that the England section of the book was stultifying and claustrophobic (as Gale surely intended) and that the novel really took flight once Harry arrived in Canada and set to work to make a new life for himself. The sense of isolation between the spaced out homesteads was reminiscent of the Australian outback – but cold instead! Gale’s characterisation is second to none, and in this, his sixteenth novel, but first historical one, he hits just the right tone, especially as there is the personal connection. There is drama aplenty, some shocking scenes too, but Harry and those he loves are portrayed with compassion, and a certain restrained admiration by Gale. A superbly engaging novel. (9.5/10)

Source: Own copy from the TBR. Patrick Gale, A Place Called Winter, (Tinder, 2015), paperback, 384 pages.

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Us by Zaffar Kunial

Continuing my poetry education, Us is a 2018 first full collection from the poet born in Birmingham, of a Kashmiri father and English mother, and many of the poems explore his dual nature, having a foot in more than one world – the poet as a traveller. This is brought home in the first poem ‘Fielder’, which is about far more than just cricket as the narrator considers the world beyond the boundary rope while searching for the ball. This poem was at once terribly English and otherworldly. A great start. My other favourite was also one of Rebecca’s (see here) – Self Portrait as Bottom’, about sending off a DNA test and getting the results back. A pair of poems I really liked were entitled ‘Empty Words’ – one in each half of the book, each a series of three line verses separated by asterisks, here are two varied examples:

“Now we separate / for the first time, on our walk, / at the kissing gate.”

“A for apply. Y / for Yggdrasil, Odin’s ash / which echoes with twig.”


Cricket and Shakespeare sit side by side with many different mythologies, the homelands of his parents in India and the Midlands and their own ancestors; even Jane Austen and Charles Dickens appear in this set. Kunial uses many styles, from blank verse to prose poems, to slightly more formal settings. There’s a coherence to this collection that I really enjoyed, and I look forward to his next. (8.5/10)

Source: Library. Zaffar Kunial, Us (Faber, 2018) paperback, 55 pages.

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11 thoughts on “Two recent reads – one prose, one poetry

  1. Liz Dexter says:

    OH, the Zaffar Kunial sounds great – I hadn’t heard of him! I’ve not read any Patrick Gale, even though some of my friends KNOW him. I’m not sure which one I should start with, but possibly not this one as I’m not massively keen on historical. Have you read others and what would you suggest?

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      The poems were super. I’ve only read two Gales, this one and Take Nothing With You which I reviewed for Shiny here. That was lovely, and contemporary.

  2. Café Society says:

    Interestingly one of my groups has the same response to Gale. We all like his work but not all of us love it. I think this is an excellent novel. Have you read his most recent, Take Nothing With You? We’ve scheduled that for November and I’m expecting the same rather mixed reaction. I think it’s great.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      I’ve read two – loved them both. Take Nothing With You was the other – I felt he really captured the intensity and joy that musicians get playing together wonderfully. Very keen to read more now – I have a few on the shelves.

  3. Laura says:

    I thought I’d read something by Patrick Gale, but looking at his backlist I’m not sure I have. I’ll have to try one of his novels.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      Before I read this and his latest one which I reviewed for Shiny last year, I thought I’d read him too – I have half a dozen on the shelves – but I hadn’t. Very glad I have though, I think you might get on with him too.

  4. Rebecca Foster says:

    We’ve chosen a Gale novel, Notes from an Exhibition, to be our January book club read. I’m looking forward to finally reading him! Glad you enjoyed the Kunial poems too.

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