Mariner Books, 2005
Fantasy; 768 pgs
From the Publisher:
New York City is subsumed in arctic winds, dark nights, and white lights, its life unfolds, for it is an extraordinary hive of the imagination, the greatest house ever built, and nothing exists that can check its vitality. One night in winter, Peter Lake, orphan and master-mechanic, attempts to rob a fortress-like mansion on the Upper West Side.
Though he thinks the house is empty, the daughter of the house is home. Thus begins the love between Peter Lake, a middle-aged Irish burglar, and Beverly Penn, a young girl, who is dying.
Peter Lake, a simple, uneducated man, because of a love that, at first he does not fully understand, is driven to stop time and bring back the dead. His great struggle, in a city ever alight with its own energy and besieged by unprecedented winters, is one of the most beautiful and extraordinary stories of American literature.
I am sorely tempted to say this is an impossible book to review. It doesn't help that I have waited nearly a month after reading the book to finally sit down and write my review (and it's taken me over two more months to rework and post it). This book is not what I expected. The description above does not really describe what this book is about. It is barely the tip of the iceberg. Winter's Tale is a love story on one hand, and also an adventure tale on another. It is the story about life, about good versus evil, about balance, about justice, and above all hope. It sounds wonderful doesn't it?
I so wanted to love this book. I read the novel at the perfect time--as a good part of the U.S. was buried in snow. The author, Mark Helprin, brought New York City to life. Anyone can tell how much he must love the city (I admit there were times I wondered if the real love story in the novel involved the city itself). My favorite parts of the book were not the descriptions of the setting, however; although, the author did a good job of making the setting a living and breathing character. I was enamored by the characters--and not just the elusive Peter Lake and the brief appearance of Beverly Penn. I was actually more taken with other, sometimes more prominent characters in the book. That of Virginia and Hardesty, characters that appear later in time (and later in the book), long past Beverly and Peter's time. Their journeys into the City especially captivated me. I longed to join them and experience life along side them. Fortunately, for a short time, I was able to.
Of all the characters, though, my favorite has to be Athansor, the white horse, who the reader is introduced to on the very first page of the novel. It's clear from the start there is something special about Athansor, and as the story unfolds, his story is both joyous and sad. He's such a strong and resilient animal. He is a symbol of hope, in many ways. I longed for news of him when the story was focused elsewhere and I ate up every moment he appeared.
There was much I did not understand about this novel. I felt like there was a deeper meaning I was missing the entire time I read. I also had a hard time getting a feel for exactly what this book was supposed to be about exactly. The greatest love story of all time as was advertised? I didn't come away from the book with that feeling at all. Could it be the book was simply about a man's love for a woman across time, even after death? A book about justice and good versus evil? Maybe, but even that story line seemed incomplete to me. I wondered at times if this book was about the circle of life--how life repeats itself. Or about how good and bad are necessary in order to keep balance. A book about magic and miracles? There was definitely some of both.
The book's ending left me with mixed feelings. There were many questions answered, some in unexpected ways. And in other instances, some of the threads were left dangling and were more ambiguous. I can live with both. I just wish there had been more. It was a bit anticlimactic in places I thought should have been given more attention.
I was eager to see the movie, hoping it might answer some of the questions I had upon completion of the book. Fortunately, the movie did have a few answers. The movie is a mere shadow of the book. So much of what I loved about the book was cut from the movie. Entire characters and their histories were missing. And not just one or two. It really is a very different type of story, I think, the one in the movie as compared to the book. And yet, I found that the movie did confirm some of my assumptions that I felt were a little murky in the book. To be more specific might be too much of a spoiler.
As poorly reviewed as the movie was, I actually liked it to some degree. It did seem as if it were two different movies put together--but that can be said about the book too, given all the stories told there. I thought the early portions of the movie, the scenes with Beverly and Peter, were the better ones. The second half of the movie seemed to come out of nowhere and the tie ins which are so clear in the book are practically nonexistent in the movie. Still, it was a sentimental story, one that can pull at the heart strings.
Winter's Tale is well loved by many and I can see why. It isn't a book I loved, however much I tried. This is the type of book I wish I had read as part of a book club or buddy read. I wonder if I would have gotten more from it in that sort of setting.
You can learn more about Mark Helprin and his books on the author's website.
Source: I purchased a copy of this e-book with my own hard earned money.
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