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Minister Without Portfolio

by Michael Winter

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9815211,829 (3.27)28
Henry Hayward is a drowning man. In a quest to find meaning in an emotionally arid life, Henry travels to Afghanistan as an army-affiliated contractor, where he becomes embedded in the regiment with which his friends are serving. But everything changes during a tragic roadside incursion. And Henry, who survives, knows in his heart that he is responsible. After returning home, Henry feels more rootless than before. Matters are complicated by the grief of Martha, his deceased friend's long-term girlfriend, with whom he once had an affair. Henry tries to make posthumous amends by planning to repair his deceased friend's home, but he hasn't taken family history or Martha's secrets into account.… (more)
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» See also 28 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 15 (next | show all)
I was enjoying this book until about half way through and the story wandered off into the wilderness. It's about three friends from Newfoundland (Henry, John and Tender ) who end up working on a government contract for another friend Rick near Kabul in Afghanistan. Tender (Patrick Morris) is in the militia and is the only one who is qualified to work with weapons. Many rules are stretched and the three friends head out in a military Jeep which is hit by a suicide bomber. Tender is killed and John and Henry are mildly injured. Henry, the narrator, heads home because he feels responsible for his friend's death. Henry is likely suffering from ptsd and decides to live near and in Tenders old aunt's house near Reveres, NFld. The story is filled with odd characters, odd relationships and odd dialogue which I could not always follow. He ends up with Tender's former girlfriend who gives birth to Tenders baby. There are no physical descriptions of any of the characters so I could not visualize their physiques. I can't figure out what the story is about: guilt, atonement, confession, family, revenge... I would not recommend this. ( )
  MaggieFlo | Jun 18, 2016 |
right upfront, i should probably acknowledge that i have a complete soft spot for literature about newfoundland, and for newfoundland writers. and i fairly adore michael winter. happily, this novel was a great read for me.

minister without portfolio, among many things, presents an intriguing concept: each of us has an orbit of 100 people, people to whom we have responsibilities.

when we first meet henry hayward, his life is not going well. and as the story continues, woes pile upon woes. as hayward works through his traumas and guilt, while rebuilding a century-old shack that lacks power and water, he regroups and tries to remake his life. but hayward is also working out his 100 people and what he's doing for them. (and if this book works for you, you may find yourself thinking about your own people and responsibilities.)

'minister without portfolio' is a concept originally misunderstood by hayward, when he is given the nickname by his friend tender morris. thinking morris meant hayward was wayward (heh!) or rootless, he took it as a not-so-flattering nickname, a reminder of the state of his life. but hayward has a realization later on in the story, one that helps tie things together, about what morris really meant in dubbing hayward 'minister without portfolio'.

winter has admitted his use of real life in the fiction he writes. and that certainly is the case in minister without portfolio a very specific incident occurs to hayward which actually happened to winter (link will be spoiler-y if you haven't read the novel). i had read this walrus essay when it was first published. revisiting it while reading MWP had me a little amused by how much of the essay appears, nearly word-for-word, in the novel. creative nonfiction? creative license with the truth? does it matter? it's an incredible story and winter is a lucky man.

and winter is a funny man, too. there was a lot of humour in this novel which i appreciated. i know that humour in fiction doesn't always work for readers so i am sure this aspect of the novel will vary from reader to reader. but i do believe you have to find the humour in life as often as possible - this can help make the seemingly unbearable manageable, if even for a moment.

winter's writing style is one i quite like. though dealing with weighty issues and traumatic instances, i never felt burdened as a reader. winter's prose could be described as simplistic -- but that shouldn't be confused with 'simple'. i found there to be an elegance in his writing and each sentence felt purposeful and right. his settings are vivid, and his characters interesting and nuanced, and i loved the dialogue.

though i have had this novel since its release, i picked it up now as it is in the running for canada reads 2016. the theme is 'starting over', and i think this is a cool choice to be included. it should make for good debate with the other panelists and books in the running. (oh yeah, in case you don't know -- canada has an annual reality show about books, 'canada reads'!)

a few articles i want to link in here, just to keep as references:

quill & quire -- winter's move from house of anansi to penguin: http://www.quillandquire.com/authors/change-is-good/

• winter on 'the next chapter', with shelagh rogers: http://www.cbc.ca/radio/thenextchapter/shelagh-s-extended-conversation-with-mich...

maclean's review: http://www.macleans.ca/culture/books/minister-without-portfolio/ ( )
  Booktrovert | Jan 24, 2016 |
***NetGalley Giveaway***

Sadly this is not a favorable review. The book was hard to follow, at times I had no idea who was even speaking. The writing style may work for some but not for me. The story was rather slow and uninteresting. Not a Good read ( )
1 vote nubian_princesa | Mar 24, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Henry is a unique character...Story takes full devotion to get in
too...A lot of tragic relationships on different levels.....
I'm more of a happily ever after girl...... ( )
1 vote 0315 | Mar 6, 2014 |
Nice quick fast read ( )
  rentie | Mar 2, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 15 (next | show all)
Winter captures the nuances of rural Newfoundland life, with its help-thy-neighbour spirit, along with the fragility of life in a place where humans are always battling nature. The author weaves potential calamity seamlessly into the quotidian and prosaic. .. The author imbues his characters with such depth that we care deeply about what happens to them.
 
But the novel as a whole is unfocused and opaque, in large part due to what seems like an error in perspective. Winter creates a sizable cast of characters, only to then stick us with by far the least interesting one among them. Henry rarely displays any outward signs of heartache or mourning, and Winter’s staccato prose doesn’t let us get very far inside his head.....
 
Minister Without Portfolio is essential reading, an honest, and at times frank-to-the-point-of-discomfort exploration of guilt, loss, faint hope and struggle. It peels back the surface calm and reveals the roiling, cold depths beneath, the currents that threaten to pull one down, that must be fought with all our strength. It’s the sort of book one fully expects to be on the awards shortlists in the coming months, and rightly so.
 
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But Love has pitched his mansion in / The place of excrement; / For nothing can be sole or whole / That has not been rent -- W.B. Yeats
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She told him there wasn't another person.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Henry Hayward is a drowning man. In a quest to find meaning in an emotionally arid life, Henry travels to Afghanistan as an army-affiliated contractor, where he becomes embedded in the regiment with which his friends are serving. But everything changes during a tragic roadside incursion. And Henry, who survives, knows in his heart that he is responsible. After returning home, Henry feels more rootless than before. Matters are complicated by the grief of Martha, his deceased friend's long-term girlfriend, with whom he once had an affair. Henry tries to make posthumous amends by planning to repair his deceased friend's home, but he hasn't taken family history or Martha's secrets into account.

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Henry Hayward has been living life the way he's wanted—working hard, playing hard—but when his girlfriend tells him she's leaving, it destroys him. In a quest to recover, he joins an army-affiliated contracting crew that takes him overseas to a Canadian base in Afghanistan. In the company of friends, he begins to mend: having laughs and being rebellious, blithely unaware of all he's left behind.

But everything changes during a roadside incursion when a routine patrol turns fatal. And Henry, who survives, knows in his heart that he is responsible.

Upon returning home, tormented by guilt, he resolves to take care of the people and places around him: Martha Groves, whose boyfriend was killed in Afghanistan; his friends and neighbours; and a summer home that needs revitalizing. Henry tries his best to seek roots after a rootless life, collecting around himself a "community of a hundred people" for whom he cares deeply and is responsible. But he hasn’t factored in family history and social infidelity—and Martha has a revelation of her own that may change everything.

Minister Without Portfolio illuminates the power and violence of self-creation. It asks: To whom are we beholden? Who do we adopt—and who couldn't we live without? It is an emotionally affecting work, filled with truths about the frailties and miracles of human nature, by a writer of exceptional talent.
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