Monday, 20 September 2010

The Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse

GENRE: historical novel/ghost story

The Great War took much more than lives. It robbed a generation of friends, lovers and futures. In Freddie Watson's case, it took his beloved brother and, at times, his peace of mind. In the winter of 1928, still seeking resolution, Freddie is travelling through the French Pyrenees. During a snowstorm, his car spins off the mountain road. He stumbles through woods, emerging in a tiny village. There he meets Fabrissa, a beautiful woman also mourning a lost generation. Over the course of one night, Fabrissa and Freddie share their stories. By the time dawn breaks, he will have stumbled across a tragic mystery that goes back through the centuries. By turns thrilling, poignant and haunting, this is a story of two lives touched by war and transformed by courage. Illustrated throughout by Brian Gallagher.

This was my first Kate Mosse novel. I knew she had written two bestsellers, Labyrinth and Sepulchre, but I haven’t read them yet, so this was an unbiased read for me, which is what I always like.

This novel is very atmospheric. I believe strongly that, had I read it during the summer or on a sunny day, I wouldn’t have liked it as much as I did. I read it in two very rainy and gloomy days and the greyness all around me, as well as the September chill in the wet air, really contributed to a mysterious, delightful experience. The novel is slow-paced, but I did not mind that, as it is a very character-driven story and its slow progress, involving gradual revelations, really fit. Also, Mosse’s writing style is very smooth and engaging, so it definitely helped with sucking me into the story.

Freddie Watson, a young Englishman, goes through an important journey in the story. For years, he has been tormented by the death of his older brother in the Great War, suffering from a typical case of misplaced guilt: he is dead and I am alive; how is this fair? Freddie has been through a lot and his psyche is always teetering on the brink of normality. He tries to find himself, or just a path in life, perhaps, by travelling through France and one day, during a snow storm, he has a car accident and is forced to seek shelter in the village of Nulle, a lonely, mysterious and deserted place. Freddie feels that something heavy is weighing down on the village, but he can’t quite put his finger on it until he meets Fabrissa, a beautiful, ethereal woman who actually understand Freddie and his loss, for she, too, experienced a great loss in her life.

Freddie is sure he has found love, but the truth is that he has found something greater and downright shocking. He has been chosen to put things from the past right and to finally put the winter ghosts of Nulle to sleep. A great mystery is uncovered at last and by making that revelation, Freddie also finally makes peace with his past and is able to truly move on, without the dead weight of his brother keeping him down.

I liked this novel because of Freddie’s psychological journey, which is, despite the grand revelation at the end, at the centre of the novel. Everyone has experienced some sort of loss in their lives and I think that Mosse tackled this issue carefully and nicely. It’s nice to see Freddie climb from the deep pit into the light once more, it’s inspiring. There is also an element of the supernatural – ghosts. I cannot reveal how exactly, as I don’t want to spoil anything, but Mosse tackled another theme that is very important and is connected to the ghosts – namely, mass graveyards that were discovered only many, many years after WW1 and WW2. I felt especially close to that because not so long ago, one such mass graveyard was discovered in a cave in the country where I live and I’m sure more could still be found in Europe and probably will be at one point. These atrocities should not be forgotten, but should be let out into the open, to let people know what happened and that it should never happen again, and, of course, to commemorate the memory of those innocent people who died so cruelly. Mosse did not refer to WW1 in her novel, but she alluded to its atrocities through the atrocities of another, more distant era, which I really liked. And, that era should also not be forgotten.

This is a good, very atmospheric read and if you decide to read this novel, make sure the atmosphere is right. That will make it all the more enjoyable.



Unknown said...

I tried to read Labyrinth twice but I just couldn't get into it. This sounds much more my kind of read. I love how you say it worked well reading it in the darker, colder days. I might have to give this a try when the weather here really turns towards the winter. I'm intrigued by all the "ghosts" you mention. Great review.

The Insouciant Sophisticate said...

I've never thought about how atmosphere can affect the way a book is read; glad that you're spotlighting this as we move toward fall and winter.

Blodeuedd said...

Nice review!
This was one of my, "oh, never mind" and I closed it at page 20. I am horrid like that. But dafter this, well I do plan to go back one day

Melissa (i swim for oceans) said...

Great review! I worry I might get bored in books like this, but it certainly sounds good! :)

Julie P said...

Very nice review! I especially liked your idea of the book being "atmospheric"....that was a good way to describe it!

Jan von Harz said...

Another lovely review. It sounds like a wonderful book and one that I might really like because of the characterization and the mood.

Dot said...

I enjoyed this one too, you should try her others as I would say they are even better!