Sunday, 21 November 2010

A Spell of Winter by Helen Dunmore

Well I have to hand it to Dunmore; she is not an author who will shy away from difficult or disturbing subjects. One of the main themes in this novel is incest between a brother and sister who grow up in a crumbling mansion with their Grandfather in the years preceding the First World War.

As if this wasn't disturbing enough the novel also explores illegal abortion, murder and mental illness. This isn't going to be a book for everyone.

The main strength of this novel however is not the subject matter but the writing. The prose is fluid and easy to read and I found myself clearly seeing the mansion in desperate need of repair and the surrounding countryside. The whole setting had a Gothic and claustrophobic feel about it and in terms of the setting, the book reminded me a little of Sarah Waters The Little Stranger. The characters were all well developed and I was glad that the main characters featured in the novel were not just limited to the brother and sister.

Unfortunately sometimes the plot moved into melodrama territory and even given the unusual circumstances I cannot believe that the siblings relationship would have entered into the territory that it did. I also feel its a shame that the incest plot line seems to overshadow all the other themes in the novel as without it more pages might have been given to the mystery of why the siblings were abandoned by their mother.

Would I recommend this? Despite this being Dunmore's award winning book, I actually preferred The Siege and Talking to the Dead to this one, but this one provides a interesting enough story if you're not put off by the subject matter.

Verdict 3 1/2/5

Posted by Jess


  1. I'm always on the lookout for novels with a gothic flavor and I loved The Little Stranger so I think I might have to add this to my TBR. Thanks for the review!

  2. Hm, I'm not sure this one would work for me...

  3. Totally new author for me that hasn't been on my radar screen...thanks for making me aware. You've said enough to put it on my list! Thanks!

  4. I wonder what it says about me that your first paragraph made me immediately go to Goodreads and put this on my to-read shelf! Great review!

  5. This really sounds like a challenging read. I'm not sure about this, but I do want to read Helen Dunmore, maybe will give the other one you recommended a try.

  6. This sounds challenging, especially with that subject matter. I think I'll try the other titled you mentioned first.

  7. I love the cover! And I'm quite curious about Dunmore now...I don't think I've heard of her before. I'll probably start with the earliest book I can get my hands on, though: I think it's more fun to get to know authors that way. :)

  8. I'm really curious about this one now. I can't imagine how Dunmore's excellent writing and fascinating subject matter could not be amazing. I plan to read all her books at some point, but I think your review has intrigued me enough to add this one to the top of the list. Isn't is weird how a non-glowing review can do that ;-)

  9. aworldinthemselves - its set before the Little Stranger takes place but the themes of a big house in England and the fading of the upper classes which were in The Little Stranger are also in this book. Plus the same Gothis feel is there although this one certainly has a faster plot line.

    Amanda - its not for everyone thats for sure and I can imagine the subject matter putting alot of people off so I don't blame you!

    Elisabeth - she has a wonderful writing style and she always manages to give a great sense of place so I hope you give her a try.

    Heather - LOL I imagined that paragraph would trun people away! But hey if it appeals then I think your in for a treat ;)

    JoV - The seige is a good one which isn't disturbing, I also thought that Talking to the dead was excellent but again it has tough subject matter.

    irisonbooks - she is worth ago as her books seem to read very quickly and flow really well.

    Eva - Zennor in Darkness was her first novel which also won a prize and is about D.H Lawrence which sounds quite interesting, I might read that one next myself.

    farmlanebooks - if any other writer had taken on this suject matter in this way I think this review would have stank! Her writing really suits that isolated gothic style, I did like this but I just prefered this historical setting of The Seige. I'd be interested in your thoughts on this one.

  10. Interesting review leaving me not sure if I want to read this. I thought Helen Dunmore was an author all of whose books I would want to read. Gothic is not a genre I am fond of although strangely it seems I have read a few recently considered to be so. Thanks you have left me thinking.

  11. This sounds very interesting - I like gothic style books and have heard only good things about Helen Dunmore.

  12. After enjoying The Siege and The Betrayal, I planned to read all of Dunmore's novels, and this one is next in line because it won the Orange (I'm also planning to read all the Orange winners by the end of 2011). The subject matter is interesting, and I hope I enjoy it a bit more than you did!