Anne Michaels. Winter Vault. In The Argo Catalogue
This is the best book I have read in a long time. The author of the best-selling Fugitive Pieces took her sweet time (more than 10years) in writing her next novel. It shows. This is a polished book where every single sentence feels like it has been crafted with extreme care and patience. I ran out of ink underlining passages I wanted to remember. Michaels has the ability to put ideas so clearly and emotions so precisely that that I was engrossed into the admittedly slow moving book. This is not a narrative driven page turner but rather a book to mull in a book that you can take your time with, a reader’s book.
The Winter Vault the reader learns is where dead bodies are places during the winter, when the ground is too frozen to accept them. Elsewhere Michaels refers to the part of the skull containing the brain as a vault. A place of limbo. The ground like our experiences are impenetrable to each other, at least some of the time. Our ability to express, describe and vocalize our experiences so that they are as original to others as they are to ourselves is questioned in the book with much success. I will not tell you what Michaels believes is our potential for such transfers because you should really read the book for yourself, suffice it to say: she weaves a magnificent tale trying to understand exactly this.
The story itself is a more compelling one than it has been given credit for in other reviews. With characters falling in and out of love, children being born and elders dying, it travels from the goals of ancient Egyptians and their pyramid building to us and our cemeteries and gardens. The number of facets of western culture and history that Michaels touches upon is very impressive, more impressive is the interweaving of them. From Gilles Villeneuve to Facebook (not directly mentioned but I think alluded to) it is all there. I could have spent hours just trying to make a list of all the cultural reference points that popped up organically in the work but that would have been a waste of time, better to just sit back and enjoy.