BookBrowse Reviews A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

A Place Called Winter

by Patrick Gale

A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale X
A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • Paperback:
    Mar 2016, 384 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Davida Chazan
Buy This Book

About this Book



Loosely based on a real life family mystery, Patrick Gale has created a novel of self-discovery, sexuality, secrets and, ultimately, of great love.

When we first meet Harry Cane, he's in an institution, somewhere in Canada, where attendants are forcing him into a bath to calm him - a treatment for some kind of mental problem. Thankfully, Harry's removal from this place brings him to another facility, with more humane treatments. This is when author Patrick Gale returns us to Harry's younger days in early 20th century England, soon after his father's death. What transpires between these events includes his brother-in-law's discovery of Harry's affair with another man, which forces him to leave his wife and daughter, and find a new life as a farmer in Winter, in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan – hence the title of the book.

Fans of Gale's work will already be familiar with his tender writing style. He creates a level of intimacy with his characters, which practically begs readers to embrace them with both their hearts and minds. They are realistic, honest, but also flawed, and act foolishly just as easily as they act responsibly. Equally as important is how they are scarcely ever predictable, and this keeps our attention while heightening our anticipation of what will happen next. Even Gale's minor characters get the same kind of attention. In A Place Called Winter, Gale has deepened his character development skills, probably because Harry Cane was a real person – he was Gale's great-grandfather.

This intimacy is particularly apparent in how gently Gale portrays Harry, who isn't a large or very physical man, which is unusual for a farmer. Harry's inner strength helps him withstand the physical difficulties, and through this sheer willpower and determination to succeed, his body eventually complies with his demands. This inner will, as well as his solid sense of self, echo Gale's depiction of Harry's childhood years as being mostly solitary, yet he was respected enough to avoid being bullied. And then later, when Harry is with his wife and daughter, he continues to be a loner, playing at being part of their world, while remaining the outsider. In fact, Harry only takes an active part in his own life when he finally gives himself to another person fully (his male lover), which leads to his decision to exile himself from England. Gale develops Harry's character and his growth with such agility, combined with the natural tension of Harry slowly learning to accept who he really is. This is exactly the type of creativity and artistry that puts me in awe of Gale's writing.

Gale also uses these skills in his depiction of the novel's landscape – an area of Canada which, at the time, was still harsh and wild and mostly untouched. Through Gale's descriptions, Harry observes the rawness of the land, which in its untamed state is still picturesque. We watch Harry as he moves through places that are startlingly different from his English home, yet he is still able to see its beauty. Furthermore, as Harry learns more about himself, he also learns more about taming the land, and both are sources of gratification. In short, Gale fills Harry's world with ugliness and splendor, harshness and kindness, both from without and from within.

How much of this story is true to the real one of Harry Cane's life is irrelevant. Certainly, the amount of information Gale received from his grandmother must have had many gaps where he had to fill in and add details. Gale clearly overcame all of these obstacles, and in doing so, gave us something marvelously well rounded, fascinating throughout, and a loving tribute to a man he never had the chance to know. This makes me think that Harry would have been very pleased to see his very successful great-grandson live as an openly proud, gay man.

Reviewed by Davida Chazan

This review is from the A Place Called Winter. It first ran in the May 18, 2016 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  Settling Western Canada

Join BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Find out more

Today's Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: The Wrong End of the Telescope
    The Wrong End of the Telescope
    by Rabih Alameddine
    Rabih Alameddine's The Wrong End of the Telescope follows Mina, a Lebanese American doctor who ...
  • Book Jacket: Lightning Strike
    Lightning Strike
    by William Kent Krueger
    It is the summer of 1963 in Tamarack County, Minnesota. Just outside the small town of Aurora, ...
  • Book Jacket: Skinship
    by Yoon Choi
    The fine thing about short stories in general is their way of following characters through ...
  • Book Jacket
    The Last Mona Lisa
    by Jonathan Santlofer
    In 1911, the Mona Lisa disappeared from its home at the Louvre in Paris. It took two years for the ...

Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
Morningside Heights
by Joshua Henkin
A tender and big-hearted novel about love in the face of loss, from the award-winning author of The World Without You.

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Flesh & Blood
    by N. West Moss

    This beautifully written memoir offers insight, understanding, and joy.

Win This Book!
Win Sisters of the Great War

Sisters of the Great War by Suzanne Feldman

A powerful novel of two unconventional American sisters who volunteer at the front during World War I.



Solve this clue:

Y A B Up T W T

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.