Love in The Winter Vault with Anne Michaels

I’ve been thinking about what I could say about The Winter Vault by that would express how much I loved it. The only way to start is with my own story. Five months ago I married the man I have loved for sixteen years and I thought marriage would be a capstone on our relationship. I didn’t realize our marriage would be the beginning of a new phase of love. Reading about Jean and Avery falling in love, I saw a closeness and intimacy that mirrored ours. I remembered what it was like to fall in love with my husband so long ago and that helped me understand the beauty and fullness of what was happening in this new phase of our relationship. I’ve heard it said that no marriage in literature can be a happy one, and Avery and Jean are confronted with a loss that divides them, but it does not divide the book and the ways they continue to relate and to love are an equally important part of the story.

Building on recurring themes of creation and simulacra in the wake of destruction, this novel created for me a sensation of deepening understanding as I encountered loud thematic echoes and subtler inferences throughout. Even tiny technical details of the transplantation of Abu Simbel, though woven into a beautiful story, reinforce these themes.

Michaels is first a poet and she re-imagines each sentence so that it is at once unique and seemingly effortless. It is a joy to read about new and familiar subjects and to follow her curious mind as she describes the genesis of wheat and the varieties of palms.

Portions of this book and the general structure recall Fugitive Pieces, which I also loved, but The Winter Vault is in most ways a very different story and perhaps one with a wider audience. This is a good book for the curious mind and for anyone who has ever loved deeply and lost. I’m not ready to part with it yet. Perhaps as I read it again I will fall even more deeply in love. If so, I’ll spare you the details.

If this review made you want to read the book, pick up a copy of The Winter Vault from Powell’s Books. Your purchase keeps indie booksellers in business and I receive a commission.