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Sunday, 2 September 2012

"... long before we painted on stone ...."

The Winter Vault by Anne Michaels

From the first page, I knew The Winter Vault by Anne Michaels was going to be a book I would fall in love with -- slowly, languorously, completely. I wanted to slow time down, to be able to savour the experience, to put the ending of this book off for as long as I could. I wanted it to be the opposite of a page-turner, whatever that is.

The story is set in the 1960‘s during the building of the St. Lawrence Seaway and later the Aswan dam in Egypt. One of the lead characters, Avery, is a civil engineer working on dismantling the sacred architecture of the Abu Simbel temple and moving it to higher ground. His new wife Jean accompanies him.

In a memorable passage, Avery paints watercolour landscapes on the bare white skin of Jean’s back on board the deck of a houseboat on the Nile. The image echoes the opening sentence of the book: “Perhaps we painted on our own skin, with ochre and charcoal, long before we painted on stone.”

The Winter Vault is a book about loss and dispossession and the inevitable loneliness of the human condition. But it’s also about individuals finding each other against all odds.

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