The Winter Vault – Anne Michaels

by SK

This is such a remarkable book. The poetic nature of the writing means the novel is driven by ideas and stories but not narrative.

In Egypt, 1964 the temple at Abu Simbel is being dismantled and reconstructed away from rising waters, under the supervision of Avery. This sets the theme of preservation and memory, which continues through each character telling their stories and eventually realising that we can’t recreate or reinvent the past but must retell and retell. Avery’s wife Jean shows us this after her baby is still born and she takes to planting things everywhere – digging into the earth at night – not so much to leave a mark or lay claim but perhaps to create and recreate life where life hasn’t been.

I found this a fascinating novel where I felt challenged to reflect and reread passages but also to learn from the characters’ own reflections on the past. I loved the way talking and sharing stories kept everything alive and the amount of information from engineering to botany, from history to art, meant I felt I was really absorbing facts as well as ideas. The ending pulled all these ideas together into such a satisfying single phrase that sums-up how we must treat the past and our collective memories.

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