A Spell of Winter by Helen Dunmore

This poetic novel won the Orange Prize many years ago. A claustrophobic melodrama, it is redeemed by the quality of its prose. There is little realism on show, but the pages turn swiftly. It might have been better for the author to avoid trying to tie the text to actual events, but this quibble is not highly significant.

There is no point in summarising the intricate plot. Nor is it worthwhile to describe the crowd of implausible characters. However, it makes sense to pay tribute to the simple effectiveness of the language used. It is hard to pick out a special passage, but this conclusion to a chapter is typical:

“I should have asked him into the house, given him something to eat and drink. It was exhilarating to be deliberately ungracious to him, to play against the grain of my liking for him. He made me see those orange trees kindling with fruit, sweet-scented in a velvet night. As I walked away from him into the house I felt myself smile.”

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