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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "The history of nations...is not only a history of land but a history of water."
Eleven years after the publication of Fugitive Pieces, her only other novel, Anne Michaels has published a monumental philosophical novel which is also exciting to read for its characters and their conflicts. Complex and fully integrated themes form the superstructure of the novel in which seemingly ordinary people deal with issues of life and death, love and death, the...
Published on 21 April 2009 by Mary Whipple

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36 of 40 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Crying out for the editor's pen
Back in the late 1990s, I had been greatly impressed with Anne Michaels first book, the Orange Prize-winning Fugitive Pieces and it had been a long wait for her next novel, The Winter Vault.

The book is primarily about a young couple who move to Egypt where the husband, Avery, is working as an engineer on the project to move the great statue of Abu Simbel...
Published on 18 May 2009 by A Common Reader


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36 of 40 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Crying out for the editor's pen, 18 May 2009
By 
A Common Reader "Committed to reading" (Sussex, England) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Winter Vault (Hardcover)
Back in the late 1990s, I had been greatly impressed with Anne Michaels first book, the Orange Prize-winning Fugitive Pieces and it had been a long wait for her next novel, The Winter Vault.

The book is primarily about a young couple who move to Egypt where the husband, Avery, is working as an engineer on the project to move the great statue of Abu Simbel before it is overwhelmed by the rising waters of the Aswan Dam. Avery's wife Jean, who has an interest in botany spends her time learning about the country and collects local plants to transplant to a safer location.

Unfortunately, I found the book to be a five day slog through cloying prose, which at times made me think of a teenage diary, with entries full of carefully-crafted sentences milking every conversation of its last shade of meaning. Does any married couple really speak with such pretentious profundity as this:

"You're like a man seen from a distance, a man who we think has stopped to tie his shoelaces but who is really kneeling in prayer".
"Our shoelaces have to come undone, said Avery, before we ever think to kneel"

Earlier, Avery has lain next to Jean his wife, thinking that, "only love teaches a man his death, that it is in the solitude of love that we learn to drown". But its not just the conversations which exhibit this over-written portentousness; the thoughts of the characters too are so precious as to be almost a parody, such as this, "Jean felt the blow, the disaster to a soul that can be caused by beauty, by an answer one cannot grasp with one's hands".

Almost everything these people do is has an air of preciousness - later when Jean is sadly bereaved she eases her sorrow by planting herbal plants in the flowerbeds of public parks in order to remind immigrants of their homeland, the idea being that if such an immigrant sleeps on the grass in the public park they will smelll familiar scents and gain "inexplicable ease". Hmmm.

Perhaps the problem is that Anne Michaels is a poet foremost, and a writer second. She seems unable to write a sentence without forcing her readers to stop and think about the convoluted wording. This is not an easy book to read because the writing does not flow with ease, but keeps stopping you in your tracks to work out what the subtext is. Even such a thing as digging a planting hole leads to profound meditations which should have attracted the editor's red pen: "Jean dug, wishing she had acres to upturn with only a trowel; the meditation of lifting the earth one scoopful at at a time, submerged in thought, for hours moving toward an understanding that is at first merely visceral and then becomes conscious knowledge"

The book would be better if it actually had some sort of story going on among all these meanderings. However, what story there is seems to be merely a vehicle on which Michaels' hangs her beautiful thoughts about the displacement of peoples whether caused by the building of dams or by acts of war.

On the whole, I think this book was lucky to be saved from the charity shop shop but it now graces my shelves as a sort of extended Leonard Cohen song, rather like Suzanne, or The Sisters of Mercy, designed to give an impression rather than to actually relate anything memorable.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "The history of nations...is not only a history of land but a history of water.", 21 April 2009
By 
Mary Whipple (New England) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Winter Vault (Hardcover)
Eleven years after the publication of Fugitive Pieces, her only other novel, Anne Michaels has published a monumental philosophical novel which is also exciting to read for its characters and their conflicts. Complex and fully integrated themes form the superstructure of the novel in which seemingly ordinary people deal with issues of life and death, love and death, the primacy of memory, the search for spiritual solace, and man's relationships with the earth and the water that makes the earth habitable--huge themes and huge scope, reflecting huge literary goals. And Michaels is successful, not just in dealing with the big issues and themes affecting mankind itself, but in bringing them to life through individuals who muddle along, seeking some level of personal connection with the world while trying to appreciate life's mysteries.

Avery Escher is a young engineer in 1964 when he and his wife Jean travel to Abu Simbel, where he is charged with the task of helping to remove the Great Temple and reconstruct it in the cliff sixty feet higher. Gushing water, which will be released when the Aswan Dam is finished, will flood the area where the temple lies, and the new Lake Nasser will cover all the land downstream. As he works on the site, Avery feels that "Holiness was escaping under the [workers'] drills," and he comes to believe that "the reconstruction was a further desecration, as false as redemption without repentance."

All the Nubian people who have lived in the area below the dam for tens of generations have been relocated, but they are bereft of their roots, their memories, and their dead. This is not the first time Avery has been exposed to the dislocation of long-time residents. His father, William Escher, was an engineer working to build the St. Lawrence Seaway, which flooded ten Canadian villages and built a lake. Stories about the Eschers' displaced family friends are touching and bring the thematic development--and the sadness--down to a more intimate personal level. A third thread takes place in Warsaw, following World War II when the city reconstructed its historical core, though its heart was missing, as were its memories--along with almost all its Jewish people.

Within this fully developed thematic framework, filled with symbols, Anne Michaels creates a passionate love story between Avery Escher and his wife Jean, a botanist who collects seeds and seedlings, transplants gardens, grafts trees, and, during a particularly difficult time in her relationship with Avery, plants flowers at night in public places to surprise visitors. Their love is tested to the limits by their different understanding of man's relationship with nature and the interconnections of land and water with memory, the past, and ultimately the present and future.

Michaels's talent as a poet is obvious in her gorgeous ruminations about the meaning of love and life, and in her evocative, unique imagery, but the beauty of the language is matched by the richness of the novel's underlying concepts, which give depth and significance to this challenging and satisfying novel. Raising fascinating questions, Michaels piques the imagination and guides the reader into new realms of thought. n Mary Whipple
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Loss and Displacement of Both Peoples and Place, 7 May 2009
By 
Mike Alexander (LEEDS, West Yorkshire United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Winter Vault (Hardcover)
The Winter Vault

In this beautifully written and touching novel Anne Michaels writes about a subject we all are familiar with and likely to have suffered. In terms of loss of place she describes the evocative Nubian territory that was flooded to make the Nasser Lake and Aswan Dam. Progress is invariably a duality and in this case the dark side was the displacement of many thousands of Nubian people to Northern Sudan.
Her style of writing, particularly in the first part of the novel flows like a poem might and captivates the reader completely. Rather than focussing upon the peoples that were displaced she concentrates on the administrator who oversaw the displacement, a likeable character. The two lead characters are Jean and Avery, a Canadian-English partnersip of love and dedication. Jean is a botanist who along with Avery compares the loss and displacement in Egypt to the construction of the St Lawrence Seaway and the loss that occurred to the local inhabitants. Avery is involved with the enormous task of moving ancient Egyptian monoliths to a safer place form the coming waters. This parallel also emphasises the duality of progress very clearly.
In a dramatic shift towards personal loss Michaels follows Jean's tragic pregnancy and the emotional consequences which also shifts the emotional climate to a cold, hard place where she makes an intersting discovery.
The experience of reading Anne Michaels novel is one of learning in many directions of the compass, it is a great read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intense and heart-rending., 30 Nov 2012
This review is from: The Winter Vault (Paperback)
Anne Michaels writes with energy and intensity. The style is very engaging with its careful use of language, intelligent reflection and pace. The story is sophisticated as it follows relationships against a backdrop of national disasters, created or contributed to by the characters. But the author leaves it to us to decide whether there is such a thing as divine retribution or coincidence and anyway, it hardly matters because we see and feel that tragedy pervades human beings on a number of levels. I liked the informative quality contained within the narrative. I was ignorant of the repercussions for the nubian nation of the creation of the Aswan Dam and also the cost to Canadians , displaced by engineering projectsdesigned to "improve" communications and so forth. I think there are strong feminist themes throughout so the narrative is engaging and thought-provoking.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Nothing to hold on to, 30 Oct 2013
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This review is from: Winter Vault (Kindle Edition)
Some beautifully written sentences. As a whole the book fails to interest due to poorly drawn characters and lack of a real plot. Very wordy and pointlessly so. Sometimes the descriptions capture beautifully a place and time or event but the whole remains very unsatisfactory.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars beautiful, 7 May 2013
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This review is from: The Winter Vault (Hardcover)
Don't read whatever I might consider writing. Read this book. Then read Fugitive pieces. Then source Anne's poetry compilations. Then urge Anne to write more. And quickly.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good interesting read, 14 Sep 2012
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This review is from: The Winter Vault (Hardcover)
I enjoyed this book. Lots on interesting ideas and I learned some useful information. My only problem was that at times the narrative lapsed into lists
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars winter vault, 23 Feb 2012
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This review is from: The Winter Vault (Hardcover)
Brilliant book should be read by all engineers doing major projects so that they understand the human impact o these projects. Great for archaeologists
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Heavy-going, 5 Dec 2010
This review is from: The Winter Vault (Paperback)
I always thought I was the only person in the world who didn't like *Fugitive Pieces* (which I've now well forgotten), so I wasn't surprised to find I didn't much like this (and I am a great fan of Sebald).

As well as it being overwritten, there is too much material in it,and sometimes the cadences of her syntax get so monotonous. She seems to have to bring in everything. Everyone is heavy. No one ever lightens up. The Leonard Cohen simile (Common Reader, above) is brilliant. I even thought that as I was reading.

It's all a shame as she has great talent, and it started off so well. The characterisation is okay. I liked the artist mother.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars enjoyable but a little overwritten in places, 25 July 2010
This review is from: The Winter Vault (Paperback)
i didn enjoy this book there were times when i found it quite moving, but it was a little overwritten in places (see previous comment), i didnt regret buying it, good reading to take holiday.
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The Winter Vault
The Winter Vault by Anne Michaels (Paperback - 3 May 2010)
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