To find yourself, sometimes you must lose everything.
A shy but privileged elder son, Harry Cane has followed convention at every step. Even the beginnings of an illicit, dangerous affair do little to shake the foundations of his muted existence – until the shock of discovery and the threat of arrest force him to abandon his wife and child and sign up for emigration to Canada.
Remote and unforgiving, his allotted homestead in a place called Winter is a world away from the golden suburbs of turn-of-the-century Edwardian England. And yet it is here, isolated in a seemingly harsh landscape, under the threat of war and madness that the fight for survival will reveal in Harry an inner strength and capacity for love beyond anything he has ever known before.
Review first posted on Goodreads Jan 2015
This is an emotional and at times heartbreaking story made all the the more poignant by the fact that is loosely based around the story of Patrick Gale’s grandfather.
“A privileged elder son, and stammeringly shy, Harry Cane has followed convention at every step. Even the beginnings of an illicit, dangerous affair do little to shake the foundations of his muted existence – until the shock of discovery and the threat of arrest cost him everything.”
We first meet Harry in an asylum, before he is moved to an experimental community for individuals with mental illness. From here the story alternates between Harry’s time at Bethel and the events which caused him to be there. The catalyst was his “crime” of being guilty of the “love that dare not speak it’s name”. A sin compounded by the fact that he was also married with a young daughter. Despite this he falls madly in love with his speech therapist and makes the mistake of leaving him an explicit message which is discovered. This discovery results in his either facing blackmail and/or arrest unless he exiles himself. Consequently he leaves for Canada as a homesteader and finds himself endeavouring to make a new life in a place called Winter.
His life is one of struggle and loneliness, that improves when he is befriended by his nearest neighbours, a brother and sister. Their friendship is both his making and ultimately his undoing.
The story is exceptionally well written and for some one who has never had any interest in Canada or the taming of the land by homesteaders I was totally absorbed and fascinated. This book is a social history as much as a veiled biography. The characters are all well drawn and it is impossible not to be moved by the sadnesses that Harry is faced with (no spoilers).
It is a book dealing with secrets and sexuality in a time much less enlightened and forgiving than today. It is story of loss and hearbreak, but it is also a story about love and friendship and survival. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
I received an ARC via NetGalley in return for an honest review.