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A Spell of Winter, Helen Dunmore

World Reading Circle

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Feb 27, 2013, 6:00pm Top

It is winter, my season. Rob's was summer. He was born in June, and I was born in the middle of the night, on the 21st of December. My winter excitement quickened each year with the approach of darkness. I wanted the thermometer to drop lower and lower until not even a trace of mercury showed against the figures. I wanted us to wake to a kingdom of ice where our breath would turn to icicles as it left our lips, and we would walk through tunnels of snow to the outhouses and find birds fallen dead from the air. I willed the snow to lie for ever, and I turned over and buried my head under the pillow so as not to hear the chuckle and drip of thaw. p15-16
This was a great thought of winter, but the cover promised a comparison with summer, which the story didn't really ever provide. I was sort of disappointed that the focus was winter, that the character didn't get into life in the summer, even though years went by. I know the book is about winter, but when you use the jacket to compare this feeling with the sticky sweat of a hot summer's day, then don't provide it... it kind of feels like part is missing.

Father said goodbye to us in the corridor. He kept yawning, even when he was shaking Miss Gallagher's hand and saying goodbye. I thought for a moment he was going to shake Rob's hand, too, and even when he hugged us it felt more like a push. And then he was gone, and all the things we hadn't told him vanished, too. p38
The cover does say that the writing is poetic, and I can't argue with that.

Grandfather and Mr Bullivant smiled at one another, but their smile was about me; it did not include me. p60
A lot of meaning in one sentence. So much feeling too.

He wanted to bathe himself in her so he would come out dripping and newborn, the way Kate said a man could feel after he'd been with a woman. I didn't know what Kate knew, but I guessed there was rock in Livy under all the pearliness, and Rob would break himself on it before he really knew it was there. p62
This isn't quite talking about what it sounds like. She was focusing on the brother's attention to his girlfriend.. not necessarily the physical comparison the nanny (Kate) was making. I'm not sure I explained that very well though...

Mr Bullivant rode in the same way as he organized his stables; competently, without much interest. He wouldn't love the nerviness of the horse as Rob would. p78
It's not just because it's a horse line that I kept this... but then, maybe it is.. just a little.

He stood up, looking down at us. Most of the sandwiches were uneaten, in spite of Rob. They'd be thrown away, along with the dinner we might have had. Suddenly I knew that he would have ordered it to be prepared, just in case. /The waste of it,/ Kate harped in my head. But nothing was less important than money in this house. For a moment the thing that might have happened was as clear and real as the thing that was going to happen, then we got up from the sofa. p93
And that was the end of the chapter. There were a lot of short endings like that, parts that just seemed to cut off at times. Sometimes they needed to, sometimes I felt like it was too abrupt.

I was still looking at the black lettering with its smooth downstrokes and delicate slanting upstrokes. As I looked the strokes flexed themselves like the glossy wings of a blackbird. It was my name, written by my mother. She'd sat at her desk in a window looking over the sea, an open window with flowers growing in it, and she'd blotted her sheet of paper swiftly, reached for an envelope, dipped her pen and written my name. She had written the word that was me, making my name as she'd made me long ago. p192-93
This reminded me a lot of a scene in Love Letters where Andy is talking to Melissa about writing and now intimate it is for someone to do.

About the nanny making a decision to sail away, make a life of her own...
The ship was real now, not us. She was still with us but we were going into the past, growing small like a country seen from a departing ship. Already she belonged to the rise and fall of the waves and the slap of the wind. p225

Finally the war breaks out and everyone in the town goes away to fight.
It was impossible to believe that the men they said were dead were really gone, without a corpse to kiss or a funeral where we could see them folded neatly away into the soil. It was a trick, a magic hand wiping the landscape clean of young men. They had walked over a hill and vanished, so suddenly that they might come back just as they left, walking quietly along the lanes, a little older and more deeply tanned, speaking a few words of a language we didn't know. p266
I really liked the way that was worded, because in a way, that's exactly what it is, a hand sweeping them away.

The spurs of the ladder stairway are secured to the floor and worn to a dark shine where generations of hands have grasped them. Thousands of quick touched have put that polish on the wood. My mother's touch is part of it, too. Her hands, like everyone else's grasp and move on. p308
There isn't quite a conclusion to the book, but then there isn't quite a beginning either. No, this isn't the very end, I didn't put any spoilers up here, but I ended up being left with a feeling of "well, then what?" kind of like I was at the breaks of some of the sections earlier on.

Group: World Reading Circle

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