Winter Time, Laurence Fearnley
Familial love, tension, friendship and interconnections are all part of Laurence Fearnley's novel WINTER TIME, set in New Zealand's MacKenzie Basin, a location which absolutely stars in this story. A place in which breath frosts, mists are all encompassing, peaks are starkly white, snow slopes glow silver-blue, and the lakes are black and dark.
It's the place that central character Roland returns to after the unexpected death of his brother, back to the landscape, the people, and the family home. Roland is alone in that cold house, with his thoughts and doubts for the first time in years. He's left a controlling partner (business and personal) back in Sydney to sort out the home, say goodbye to his brother, and come to terms with what his death in what looks like a car accident all means. In the process he finds an unlikely friendship and a demanding and flat out cantankerous old neighbour. He also discovers somebody is impersonating him online, the postings stirring up a lot of angst among locals.
Always a bit of an outsider in this place, Roland was a gay, vegetarian boy, living alongside the hunting, fishing, outdoors types that his brother fitted in with. Despite that the boys were close as kids, and Roland loved his brother unconditionally, struggling to discover he may not have known him as well as he thought.
The present being dragged into the past is the last thing he needs really, struggling to come to terms with the loss of family, and the disconnect that comes with returning to the place of your childhood, but it's the myriad of mysteries that really grind him down. What is going on between Department of Conservation Staff and the hunters and locals? Why on earth would somebody be posting inflammatory things under his name? Why is neighbour Mrs Linden so rude? Was his brother's death an accident or something more sinister? Put those questions into a world that is controlled by hostile weather, with heavy snow, impassable roads, and the icebox of a home that forces him into an even smaller physical space - right up close to the fireplace - and you can see how Roland would start to feel the walls closing in.
WINTER TIME is very much a novel about paths chosen, and conflicts. Let's face it, there's no such thing as family without a bit of conflict, although Roland's got the added complication of running out of family, as mystery seems to surround all that have died. Whether or not the mysteries will all be solved is down to Roland, and the reader will be aware of a sense of impending doom there. He's an ineffectual person, somebody whose preference for avoiding conflict has left him prone to bullying or dismissal. An unusual protagonist for that reason - a fragile man, vulnerable and a little bit lost, he seems to waft through the narrative at points, rolling with way too many punches for his own good, and the reader's comfort.
Despite the prose being spare and beautifully evocative, readers will have to take it as read that Roland is going to almost sleep-walk through this arc of discovery. The gentleness of approach has a heart of steel at it's core though, determination does come to him, resolutions sort of arrive but not necessarily when you'd expect them, and not all neatly wrapped up in a bow. You're going to be wandering up and down some snowed in byways in this novel, and you may not necessarily always get to the point on the map you thought you were heading to.
Set in the Mackenzie Basin, this vivid novel is about familial love, friendship and how our lives touch, connect and impact upon one another.
‘The SUV advanced, without slowing as it passed; the driver probably didn’t even register him. Roland watched until it reached the canal crossing, where the curve of the hill and the trees swallowed it up. And then he was alone with his frosted breathing, the mist, another breath, a sob.’
Having returned to the Mackenzie Country to deal with the unexpected death of his brother, Roland has more than enough on his plate. He could do without the demands of a cantankerous neighbour, the complaints of his partner back in Australia and discovering that someone is impersonating him online, stirring up the locals against him.
Even the weather is hostile, rendering roads unpassable and his old home an icebox, the fire offering little comfort. And yet, when cycling on the empty roads, cocooned in a snow-muffled landscape, he finds he can confront what he actually feels.
A vivid novel about familial love, friendship and how our lives touch, connect and impact upon one another.