Winter Games Hardcover – 1 Nov 2012
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A rip-roaring read (Evening Standard)
There's never a dreary moment in this blast of a book . . . Johnson's descriptions are irresistibly exuberant . . . As addictively, fizzily invigorating as the Alpine air itself (Daily Mail)
Johnson delivers a genuine sense of time and place . . . there isn't a dull sentence in this sure-footed novel (Jenny Colgan Telegraph)
Excellent on period detail, the blundering innocent abroad and young heartbreak (Sunday Times)
An excellent romp. Full of 'tally-ho' Mitfordian charm . . . a witty, fast read (Red)
An edifying moral lesson as well as a tale of inter-generational sleuthing (Spectator)
The Jane Austen of W11 (Scotsman)
Johnson is excellent on period detail and captures the flavour of an era when the storm clouds were gathering (Mail on Sunday)
About the Author
Rachel Johnson is a journalist who has written two previous novels and two volumes of diaries. The Mummy Diaries, Notting Hell, Shire Hell and A Diary of The Lady are all available now from Penguin.
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Top Customer Reviews
The story is told in alternate chapters - Francie in 2006 and Daphne in 1936 - and it shows how different life was then when compared to the twenty first century. As Francie struggles to make sense of her heritage and to make a success of her own life she becomes more and more interested in what did happen to her grandmother in 1936 - the year her own father was born.
This book grew on me. After the first hundred pages I was considering giving up but something kept me reading and I was glad in the end that I had done so. I did not take to Francie and found her a very selfish person, always considering how events related to her - getting annoyed when she thought Daphne was going to die before she could talk to her; hearing of a flat for sale in her own block and wanting a friend to buy it; being attracted to a work colleague. I liked Daphne as a character, though she too had her faults.
I did get a bit bored with the brand placement in the 2006 episodes and felt they rather over-egged the pudding. It was obvious from the reader's first glimpse of Francie and her husband, Gus that they lived a very fashionable life.
Overall this is an enjoyable read though I found it difficult to chose whether to award it three or four stars. As I enjoyed the last third of the book and read it at a sitting I came to the conclusion it warranted four stars. I felt some of the writing was a little slapdash but overall it was a good story and the two parts dovetailed well.
Seventy years later, Daphne's granddaughter Francie visits the same Alpine resort for work. Francie is not a sympathetic character: she has a nice husband, a flat in Little Venice and a good job in the media so she is -- obviously -- discontented with her lot. She also lives in a world where women have 'manes' rather than hair like normal people. Then she gets word that Daphne has had a stroke in her care home and is asking for her. Next day, she is astonished to see a photograph of Daphne and Betsy with Hitler in the archives. Francie was very close to her grandparents, who brought her up as her father died when she was young and her mother went off with another man. Looking through a box of keepsakes, she is shocked to find her father's birth certificate with his father's name left blank.
I found the premise of this novel intriguing -- posh English girls go off to Germany in 1936 to improve their German and mingle innocently with the Nazi elite -- but the execution is disappointing. I did wonder, on ordering it, if Johnson could write, or if she was someone who gets published because she has a famous family.Read more ›
Altogether, this novel does not really work. A story about the rape of a teenager, set against the rise of a fascist regime contrasted with a character in the modern day who is insubstantial and not really that likeable, yet has done something morally questionable, does not blend seamlessly; it curdles into lumps.
The main problem here is the style. Johnson wants to be witty and Mitfordian (of which more later) for the 1930s' sections and makes great efforts with her parade of characters and their dialogue, however her main subject matter can't really be dealt with like this. The modern-day story suffers similarly. The undercurrent is quite serious, but the characters are Bible-paper-thin and she relies on constantly quoting brand names to fill in the picture. The two styles individually aren't brilliantly rendered (the 30s is a bit better than the contemporary), however put together they just bang up against each other and the sound is clangingly hollow.
As expected, Johnson mentions the Mitfords (whose ghosts would haunt anything like this, even if they weren't explicitly mentioned). However, anyone familiar with what happened to Unity when war was declared and her life afterwards might feel that it is a bit distasteful to have her mentioned in this novel, no matter how fleetingly. The mention could easily be deleted at no cost to the narrative and should have been.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
There was something interesting about this book and I couldn't put my finger on it. However the changes in chronological setting might confuse some people in places. Read morePublished 16 months ago by Prospero77
I read this novel because of the positive reviews on the cover - I can only assume they are by friends, neighbours or close family. Read morePublished 21 months ago by Chez moi
Not quite Mitfordish (though I think Rachel Johnson would qualify as a terrific Hon) despite owing a lot to Nancy and Diana, this is an entertaining slalom of a story, lurching... Read morePublished on 7 April 2014 by Lulu
This story spans two lives, two woman who live in totally different worlds. A modern girl who wants to find out about what happened to her grandmother as a young girl in the... Read morePublished on 16 Jan. 2014 by John Ferngrove
The premise of this novel was very promising - as was the jacket- but an alarming note crept into the back-cover puffs: 'Surprisingly brilliant' and 'shiveringly brilliant' - a... Read morePublished on 5 Jan. 2014 by Stephen
Francie is a spoilt, self-obsessed woman working as a 'journalist' on a glossy magazine. She lives the glamourous, design-led lifestyle with her chi-chi flat and successful... Read morePublished on 23 Aug. 2013 by Plucked Highbrow
This is tremendous fun- an odd thing to say about a novel set in Germany in the run-up to the Second World War but true never-the-less. Read morePublished on 16 Aug. 2013 by Sally Hughes
Fascinating book especially as I knew an elderly friend who spent time in Munich before the second world war. Read morePublished on 14 Aug. 2013 by A. L. Pion
An enjoyable tale of two generations of the same English family and the effects of the times they lived through as the younger generation investigates the life and times of the... Read morePublished on 12 July 2013 by John Richard