Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Back Reviews Reel: January 2015

The middle month of my WINTER Books Special of three years ago took me first to Long Island in the USA with The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck, the last and a bit neglected novel of the 1962 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature. From there I embarked on a round-trip of Europe. My first stop was in a small English village that served as scene for the forgotten Welsh classic Winter Sonata by Dorothy Edwards. Then I visited a married couple in modern-day Finland who got carried away in The Winter War by Philip Teir. In a small Austrian town of the early 1990s I found the protagonist of Winter Quarters by Evelyn Grill at the mercy of a violent husband. And eventually I returned to the British Isles, more precisely to the borderlands and Scotland, in the mid-eighteenth century to meet Midwinter by John Buchan.

- - - - - published in 1961, the year before the writer was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck explores the corruption of morals in a money-centred world from the point of view of an ageing man versed in the letters, trained for war and unfit for business. The protagonist is proud descendant of the Pilgrim fathers as well as of whalers and he clings to the high moral standards that they passed on to him. His failure to adapt to modern times has already cost him the family’s grocery shop and forced him to work as a badly-paid clerk for the new owner. He hates his job and when he realises how much his wife, son and daughter yearn for new wealth, power and prestige, he begins to question his attitude.
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- - - - - the title Winter Sonata the nearly forgotten Welsh author Dorothy Edwards evokes the story of the shy young telegraph clerk Arnold Nettle. They are the late 1920s and he has just moved to a small English village for health reasons. Soon he is invited to the big white house on the hill belonging to the middle-class Neran sisters who stay there for the winter with their aunt and cousin. He has a crush on the elder sister and is very nervous, but the whole family welcomes him because country life bores them and he can entertain them playing the cello. Next time he brings his landlady’s teenage daughter who is a talented singer and very outgoing. The musical evenings take a sudden end when Arnold Nettle falls ill. For the rest, life goes on.
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- - - - - Winter War is the debut novel of Finland-Swedish author Philip Teir. It's the story of a Finnish couple in their late fifties and of their two grown-up daughters. The father, a renowned university professor of sociology and popular science author, feels attracted to a young journalist and former student who wants to portray him on the occasion of his sixtieth birthday. The mother has a remarkable career in human resources, but she is discontent because everything in her life seems to be just routine. The younger daughter studies arts in London not knowing anything better to do. And the older daughter is a teacher who questions the choices she made. In a nutshell: they all have their problems that make the long dark winter even more gloomy so it turns into a war at last.
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- - - - - shattering short novel Winter Quarters from the pen of Austrian writer Evelyn Grill depicts the fate of a woman in a provincial Austrian town in the early 1990s. She is in her early forties and doubly handicapped: she was born with a limp and her surroundings crippled her emotionally. Although proud of her skill as a seamstress, she lacks self-esteem and misses love in her life which makes her easy prey for the brute of a man knocking at her door. She soon realises that all he wants is a comfortable home and a servile woman who lets him do as he likes – domestic violence included. Family, friends and neighbours don't see or pretend not to see what is going on. But although she is weak on the outside, anger is boiling under the surface.
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- - - - - spy novel Midwinter by John Buchan is set in the time of the Jacobite rising of 1745/46 and its protagonist is Captain Maclean of the Scottish army travelling secretly through England to join Charles Stuart aka Bonnie Prince Charlie with important news. Avoiding the main roads in order not to be discovered, he gets lost and a mysterious, violin-playing man called Midwinter brings him back on his way. Moving on, Captain Maclean meets a not yet famous Samuel Johnson who chases after his young, eloped lady and becomes the captain’s loyal companion. Ever again Midwinter and his men have to come to their rescue and Captain Maclean realises that his assumed friends are actually his foes trying to get rid of him with all means because they betray the Jacobite cause.
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  1. I went and read your entire review of The Winter of Our Discontent. When I read the book I had read all of Steinbeck's novels from Grapes of Wrath and on, so felt sad that it had to be his last book. I agree with what you called the bitter tinge of old age, though lately I have realized that as we age we perhaps have the right, even the responsibility to remind the young about important values, even as we urge them on to take over in the modern ways. My review:

    1. I haven't read much Steinback, just The Pearl (in school), Of Mice and Men and The Winter of Our Discontent. I liked them all although neither overly impressed me. Somehow I don't really get warm with American writers... at least, I haven't yet come across the one who really reachs me.


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