Review: The Winter Vault — Anne Michaels

Read: 20
To Go: 80

Book List:
11. Blue Monday — Nicci French
12. Mrs. Kennedy and Me — Clint Hill
13. The Imperfectionists — Tom Rachman
14. The Rage — Gene Kerrigan
15. Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler — Trudi Kanter
16. The Drowning — Camilla Lackberg
17. Le Bal — Irene Nemirovsky
18. Snow In Autumn — Irene Nemirovsky
19. The Black Echo — Michael Connelly
20. The Winter Vault — Anne Michaels

wintervault

When I saw The Winter Vault, I knew right away I wanted to read it. The cover was gorgeous, and the description was compelling. But because I couldn’t justify buying it right away (it’s not like I have a shortage of books, or an abundance of cash), I kept going back to the BMV at least once a week and staring at it longingly, waiting for the day of my next pay cheque. This story, I’m sure, makes me sound much creepier than I actually am, but this is the life I lead.

In The Winter Vault, Jean and Avery Esher, a newly-married Canadian couple, move into a moored houseboat along the Nile river in 1964, where Avery is helping to dismantle and reconstruct the Abu Simbel temple. When the couple suffers a terrible loss near the end of their stay, they return to Canada to lead separate lives. Avery goes back to school to study architecture, and Jean meets a group of Polish émigrés, including Lucjan, a man haunted by his experiences in occupied Warsaw. In time, Jean’s relationship with Lucjan offers her a chance for forgiveness and consolation.

At the heart of The Winter Vault is the idea of reconstruction and replication. From the taking down and building back up of Abu Simbel, which bothers Avery because it’s no longer the true relic; to the manipulation of the Nile river over time, which destroys communities and forces them to rebuild elsewhere; to the reconstruction of old Warsaw, as told by Lucjan, which fills the  Polish citizens with confusion and heartbreak, knowing that it’s only a replica of the city they once loved. Even on the northern Canadian riverbed where Avery and Jean first meet, which is drained to make room for something new. None of those structures, when rebuilt or replaced, will ever be truly the same: they’re only simulacrums.

The reconstruction of the physical structures in The Winter Vault mirror the changes in Avery and Jean’s relationship, which makes their eventual reunion at the end of the book even more bittersweet: they both know that they have a second chance with each other, but they can’t fully reclaim what they had before their tragedy. Their new relationship is like rebuilt Warsaw: it outwardly appears as if nothing has changed, and is imbued with old memories of years spent together, but is not truly the same.

Next book: The First Deadly Sin — Lawrence Sanders

– Kelsey

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