The Winter Vault.
The Winter Vault by Anne Michaels is the Canadian poet’s long-awaited (by me) second novel. The first, Fugitive Pieces, is one of my favorite books, and I was so thrilled by the release of Michaels’ second book that I pre-ordered it from Amazon so it would be on my front porch the day it came out.
Itook my time reading the book, especially as the flow of the words invites slowness and quiet, and then took another few days to process it. The book follows a married Canadian couple, Avery and Jean, who travel to Egypt in the 1960s to help relocate a temple as part of Avery’s engineering work. Each of them lost a parent when growing up, and so the two’s bond is centered around sharing memories, as if by absorbing the other’s, each might have more of a complete history.
While in the desert, Jean becomes pregnant with their first child, who is eventually stillborn. This is referenced in other reviews as “tragedy striking,” and so I debated whether it’s giving too much away to say that’s what happens. This loss leaves Jean in despair and Avery silent and unable to comfort her, and they return to Canada separately. Avery returns to school and Jean absorbs herself in botany and the company of Lucjan, a survivor of an occupied Warsaw. All three of these characters seem displaced in the world, and to a point, even in their own lives, as each copes differently with the pervasion of loss throughout their daily lives, whether in the form of a rerouted river, an eroded relationship or a descrated city.
The writing style of this novel differs greatly from Fugitive Pieces. Third person narrative is used throughout its entirety and the language is much more controlled. In Fugitive Pieces, the sentences hit me like a shovel to the gut, and in The Winter Vault, they rolled over me like water- still striking, but in an entirely different way. While reading this novel, I was often reminded of Michael Ondaatje, another Canadian writer, and the evolution of his style.
Overall, I think The Winter Vault is a better, fuller work than Fugitive Pieces, and I would solidly give it at least four stars. I think the fifth star will be earned over time and another reading, and it’s quite possible that I might love this work just as much as Fugitive Pieces eventually. That love, however, will be a quieter one that I keep to myself, rather than the fierce devotion I have to telling everyone to read Fugitive Pieces.