Wednesday, January 04, 2023

A Spell of Winter by Helen Dunmore


A Spell of Winter by Helen Dunmore was the inaugural recipient of the Women's Prize for Fiction (then called the Orange Prize).  Cathy and Rob are orphaned and they live in an estate in England with their grandfather, but they are mostly cared for by a servant named Kate and a governess named Mrs. Gallagher. It's a moody, gothic piece for the first half, but then war comes, Rob leaves for Canada, and it becomes a book about survival in wartime. 

There are going to be spoilers from here on out because this book is almost thirty years old and I have to talk about this book. I HAVE to.

Did you all read Flowers in the Attic when you were a tween/teen? I mean, I assume everyone did, but I also assume everyone loves my dog and thinks butter pecan is the superior flavor of ice cream, so I am clearly NOT right about everything in life. ANYWAY.  This book is just Flowers in the Attic with some literary flair. There's a Cathy in both books! I'm talking incest, illegal abortions, and pseudo-murder. I was just lulled along into thinking this was some sort of bland historical fiction book and then page 104 happened and oh, boy, it was a wild ride. 

Anyway. I don't think I recommend this book? I mean, the incest is a turn off, right?  But the writing is good. But please read it anyway because I have SO MANY QUESTIONS and I want to talk to someone about this strange little book. 

Word I looked up:

spifflicate (page 120) - treat roughly or severely; destroy

Line of note:

Nothing told me he was dead. I can't look back on the ordinary day and make it extraordinary. It was a clear late summer day, that last day he was seen alive, the day on which I have to presume he died. He walked out of the world while I was picking apples. (page 287)

It was a lovely summer night when my MIL died. I remember thinking that terrible things like that should happen when it's raining or cloudy. But of course people die every day. We should take each day for the precious thing it is. 

3/5 stars


  1. Oh, I'm intrigued! Yes, I read Flowers in the Attic. I would also assume everyone did, and while I can't say that book was "well written" it was unbelievably compelling and fascinating. Okay, I may have to read this one! I just put a library hold on it.

    1. Oh, I'm excited that you're going to read it! But just know that you've been warned that it's weird!

  2. I did read Flowers in the Attic and was recently talking to a friend about it. Incest! Poisoned doughnuts! Pouring wax on the grandmother's head!

    1. That book was WILD. This book was maybe a tiny bit less wild, but just SO UNEXPECTED. I did not expect page 104 AT ALL.