Zeebra Books Unsettling love and stifled horror create and then destroy the claustrophobic world of this lush, literary gothic set in turn-of-the-century England. Catherine and Rob Allen, siblings two years apart, grow up in a world of shameful secrets. Their mother creates a public outcry, abandoning her family for a bohemian life on the Continent. Their father, whose mental state always has been slightly precarious, is committed to an asylum in the country.

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Forbidden love. A once-proud family in a grand-but-ravaged old house leaky roof, a gaggle of servants somewhere in England. Winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction, a prestigious British literary award, the book came out six years ago in the UK but is appearing for the first time in America. A few relatively normal characters keep the novel grounded: There is the eccentric grandfather with whom the children live, their mother having long ago fled to the Continent and their father having eventually died in the sanatorium.

There is Kate, the Irish maid of all work, the anti-Miss Gallagher, the good servant as opposed to the bad. And there is the Austen-esque figure of their wealthy neighbor, Mr. Bullivant, who woos Cathy in a discreet fashion, sends her lemons from his Italian villa, teaches her about painting and, most importantly, knows and likes her errant mother.

This mother-daughter relationship seems to possess Dunmore, as if she is trying to work out something in her own life. The turning point of the book arrives when Rob, unforgivably, runs off to Canada with, even more unforgivably, Kate: a double betrayal.

The language becomes less melodramatic, more incisive. Dunmore is wonderful at establishing a sense of place; you smell what she smells, see what she sees. A man known as "the wizard" a friend of the cook, the marvelously named Mrs. Blazer, who sells herbal remedies in the market square comes to the house and burns attar of roses to see the old man out Her people, instead of having to fight their way out of encumbering gothic stereotypes, are fully themselves sympathetic despite addiction, brutality, dishonesty, pain from the start.

And the suspense is terrific.


A Spell of Winter

Plot summary[ edit ] Cathy and her older brother Rob grow up without their parents on an estate in rural England in the early 20th century. Their mother had abandoned them for a better life in southern Europe, and their father was committed to a sanatorium. They live with their grandfather and are brought up by one of the servants, Kate. Their governess is Miss Gallagher, but the siblings hate her. Cathy and Rob have little contact with the outside world, and as they get older, they grow closer. An older, wealthy neighbour Mr Bullivant befriends Cathy, but she is more interested in her brother. Miss Gallagher finds out about their liaison and threatens to expose them to their grandfather.


A Spell of Winter Book Summary and Study Guide

She turned the toasting-fork to see how the muffin was browning, then held it up to the fire again. We stared at her. They were bringing my uncle Joseph down the stairs. But my grandmother had kept the body too long in the house.


A Spell of Winter is a difficult book to categorize and difficult to explain without giving too much away - but it follows siblings Cathy and Rob who have spent their lives in a quasi-abandoned manor in the English countryside which belonged to their parents; their father is now dead and their mother ran off when they were young. The other reason this book came alive for me is that Cathy was such a fascinating, sympathetic, well-developed character, and the depth of emotional complexity that Dunmore was able to excavate with this book was staggering. But I was so utterly enchanted and riveted by this book, and I cannot wait to see what else Dunmore has to offer. Maybe because I have no brothers and thus no frame of reference to get suitably skeeved out by it. But whatever, neither here nor there.

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