Excerpt from A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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A Place Called Winter

by Patrick Gale

A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale X
A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale
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    Mar 2016, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Davida Chazan
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"Yes, thank you, Doctor. Mr. Ormshaw."

"I'm Gideon, here, Harry. Now, let's see…" He glanced at his pocket watch. "At ten o'clock please come to my study."

Breakfast was spread out on the sideboard in a sequence of steaming dishes. "No meat or alcohol here," Mabel told him in a murmur. "Gideon believes they are destabilizing."

"Thank God for coffee," Bruno added. She noticed that Harry was standing, staring. "Are you all right?" she asked.

"Do…do…"

She watched kindly as he stammered. "Take your time," she murmured.

"Do we help ourselves?" he asked at last.

"Yes."

"And…where are the attendants?"

"Bless you, there are no attendants here."

They were informal to the extent of serving themselves and sitting where they chose. To his surprise, the Indian woman and the Negro had joined them. Unsurprisingly, they each ate alone. One of the men was a nervous giggler. Mabel was a person who chatted even when no one was talking to her. It made him wonder what she was like when there was no company to animate her. Bruno hung on her every word, clearly an abject slave, but was constantly passed over by Mabel, who seemed to regard mere female attention as cheap currency.

With their tidy spring suits and small touches of elegance, a silk handkerchief here, a pocket watch there, the men clustered at one end of a table reminded him of something. It was only as he watched them roll their napkins at breakfast's end that he realized it was the gentlemen of the Gaiety chorus. In London. A lifetime ago.

Each resident was assigned a napkin ring of a different design. Harry's had a pattern of ivy leaves. Feeling the heavy white damask between his fingers, he struggled to remember the last time he had used a napkin.

"A far cry from the snakepit, isn't it?" one of the men said, watching him, and was shushed by Mabel.

"We don't speak of such places here," she said, then turned a kind face on Harry. "Gideon believes in the healing power of civilized touches," she said.

Both black man and Indian had left the room without his noticing. Emerging on to the terrace, after hot breakfast rolls as soft and pale as infancy, he saw that the man was at work in the garden already, tidying the path edges with a spade and tossing the trimmings into a barrow. Perhaps Mr. Ormshaw was a socialist as well as a Quaker, to have patients dine with his servants.

A small macaw had been set out on a perch to enjoy the sun. It was discreetly shackled to its post, he saw. It waved its wings in greeting as he emerged, displaying feathers so bright they scorched the eye, before picking a nut from its little bowl and falling to preening. For the second time since waking, Harry was overwhelmed by the clarity and beauty of it all and felt he might cry.

"Look but don't touch," Bruno said behind him. "Gideon took him on when he bit a girl's finger clean in two. We all have our unspeakable pasts here…" And she made him a kind of salute with her fingertips before striding down the steps and off through the grounds with the air of one taking a constitutional.

There was a piercing whistle from across the valley and he saw the steam from a train making its way through the trees and caught a flash of its paintwork. The sight sent a painful shudder through him which he felt briefly distort his face. A cuckoo clock, surely chosen in irony, was chirping ten in the hall as their host stepped out to find him.

"This way, Harry," he said.

For all the informality, Gideon had not eaten breakfast with them. Perhaps, despite his socialism, he found the maintenance of a certain distance useful? He led the way through the library, where several residents were reading or writing, out into a sort of conservatory and into his consulting room on the far side, which stuck out from one corner of the house so as to command a fine view of the river.

Excerpted from A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale. Copyright © 2016 by Patrick Gale. Excerpted by permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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