Winter Journey

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9780140233841: Winter Journey

Alfred and Edith, the children of Arthur Ashby, are in their 60s. On Boxing Day Edith arrives to spend 10 days with her brother in the parental home where he still lives. During this period they revert to the relationship they have always had, argumentative and mutually misunderstanding.

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Review:

Isabel Colegate has a unique gift for shining the bright light of passing history onto seemingly quiet rural lives, as she beautifully proved in her novel The Shooting Party. In Winter Journey, middle-aged siblings Edith and Alfred encounter each other over a long, chilly visit at the family home. The two are, by any worldly standard, glamorous successes. Born to a crotchety but well-known composer, each child found a career path that reflected the spirit of the 1970s. Edith built a grassroots playgroup movement into an independent party that eventually got her elected to Parliament. Alfred, a photographer, consorted with his lovely but mad model, Lydia, and hosted gentle parties of hippies at the family pile. Now, though they've achieved the laurels of middle age, neither is at peace.

Over the course of their visit, Edith and Alfred are forced, simply by proximity, to recall memories they'd simply rather forget. This could be a dull formula for a novel, since there's very little action propelling it into the future, yet Colegate masterfully teases this quiet material into suspense. For starters, she's not above blunt seduction of the reader. Edith, for instance, observes her brother at the beginning of the book: "There he was, in his tattered old coat, without his gloves, needing a shave, nothing to be proud of, and yet she was proud of him; she always had been. If only that wretched woman had not done that awful thing." It takes a confident writer to shill her material so baldly. Colegate writes more subtly about the frightening regrets of middle age, the way one moment a life can seem well spent and the next merely squandered. As Edith writes to a friend: "It is extraordinary how whole pockets of feeling can be stored away, forgotten for years, and then quite unexpectedly emerge in all their pristine fervour, time having wrought no modification at all." Brother and sister both suffer in these "pockets of feeling." It's Colegate's larger achievement to link their lives to the larger passage of English history. --Claire Dederer

About the Author:

Isabel Colegate is the author of twelve novels, a collection of short stories, and, most recently, A Pelican in the Wilderness: Hermits, Solitaries, and Recluses (Counterpoint, April 2002). She lives near Bath, England.

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