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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Unless Jack had other plans, their evenings were quiet, so Jack could study, and their nights early. Their lives were careful, temperate and, on Harry's part, quite chaste, in marked contrast to those of their neighbors. The apartment they rented was in a fashionable building of bachelor lodgings to the north of Piccadilly. The wholesome routine of their habits was overseen by Mrs. Allardyce, the same respectable housekeeper their father had first taken on as their nursery maid, who traveled in from Lambeth every day to cook and clean for them.

Their absentee father's death, announced by a visit from the family solicitor, who in turn had been contacted by a lawyer in Nice, was more troubling to Harry than to Jack. Jack had never really known the man, except through his formulaic and unrevealing letters (I am glad to hear of your excellent exam results…I approve your choice of lodgings…), so the death felt no more a cause for grief than the news of failure in a distant mine in which one had briefly considered investing. Naturally Jack looked to Harry for his cue as to how he should feel and behave. They adopted black suits for a year, of course, but Harry would not hear of Jack falling behind in his studies for the observance of form, although they did have a week away to attend their father's burial in Nice's English cemetery.

The funeral was a strange, chilly affair. (It was a revelation to Harry that the South of France had bad weather.) Besides the two of them and the local Church of England parson, the weather-beaten consul was in attendance, as were two plump Frenchwomen in veils, one of whom had to support the other when grief overcame her at the graveside. They melted away into the drizzle before Harry could introduce himself, and the consul was either discreet or genuinely at a loss as to who they were.

Harry could not pretend to be grief-stricken. If he mourned anything, it was the lack of anything to mourn. His memories of his father were so scant and so distant that they had become rigid to the point where he could no longer trust them. He remembered, or thought he remembered, walking alongside him on a shingle beach, but it was the difficulty of walking on shingle while holding an adult's hand that informed the memory, not any paternal warmth. He remembered a luxuriant beard a little like the king's, and a tang of limes and something sweeter from some manly preparation or other, a beard oil or a shaving water. He had absolutely no memory of his voice, and realized that he had come, with time, to supply a voice, as he read his father's letters, that belonged to a disliked master at Harrow and not to his father at all. His principal feeling on losing this second parent was to miss his mother with something like fresh grief and to feel a powerful yearning for nothing more complicated than feminine company.

They had no women in their life beyond Mrs. Allardyce, and she was not precisely in it, and was better at sustaining a pie crust than a conversation. Their building was designed to accommodate only bachelors, but neighbors upstairs and down would entertain more or less respectable women by day and occasionally Harry would coincide with these visitors on the stairs or in the entrance hall. Feminine conversation, exotic in the building's habitual quiet, would peter out as he opened a door or rounded a staircase corner. He would lift his hat in greeting and be met with a greeting in return, or demurely downcast eyes, and then the conversation would start up again behind his back, leaving him with torn rags of sentences and no less tantalizing wafts of violets, perfume or soap.

In the theaters, or in shops, or on his daily walks, Harry observed women as one did wild birds, noted the elegance or occasional strangeness of their fashions and the way their behaviors changed depending on whether they were alone or in company, with a man or with other women. But there was no woman he counted as a friend, none he could truly say he knew. He had known Mrs. Allardyce all his life, but she was the soul of decorum and released personal information so rarely that on the occasions when she let slip that there had been a Mr. Allardyce but that he had died fighting the Boers, or that she shared a house in Lambeth with her four unmarried brothers so was quite used to the ways of men, he found himself chewing over the gobbets of information days later in a way that hardly seemed decent.

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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