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A Spell of Winter is a gothic novel by Helen Dunmore, set in England, around the time of World War I. The novel was the first recipient of the Orange Prize. A Spell of Winter: A Novel [Helen Dunmore] on *FREE* shipping on qualifying offers. The inaugural winner of England’s prestigious Orange Prize, . “Not many novels grab the reader’s lapels with the opening sentence, but Helen Dunmore’s A Spell of Winter is surely one We plunge.

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T he entire back wall of Helen Dunmore’s tiny studio-cum-office — eight floors up in a neat block of flats on Bristol’s northern slopes — is given over to a glass door, leading on to a strip of balcony. Underneath, the city’s streets, parks and houses roll out all the way to the feet of the hills on the skyline. It is, Dunmore says, “a lovely place to write.

I know authors who say they can’t work unless they’re facing a funmore wall; they find the external world too distracting.

But I like the reminder that it’s all out there. The analogy of the all-seeing novelist is hard to resist: Dunmore perched on high, peering down dunmord the lives playing out below. But such aesthetic distance has no dpell in her novels.

The worlds she creates are urgent and intimate; she talks about off characters as if they were close friends, constantly steering the conversation back to them, like a proud parent, or a lover. In her latest novel, The Betrayal a sequel to ‘s The Siegeshe transports us to another port city, Leningrad, and sinks us deep into the oppressive heart of it.

The novel opens in bj the months leading up to Stalin’s death; while the atmosphere in the city is fractionally less paranoid than during the purges and executions of the Great Terror, its citizenry remains watchful, overwound. In The Siegeset 10 years earlier during the deadly Leningrad blockade, Dunmore set out a world of shrinking horizons. The frontiers of the characters’ lives were pulled wlnter and back: Fear pulses from the pages, but while cold and hunger slaughtered Leningraders in their thousands, these dangers were at least clearly visible: Andrei, a paediatrician, lives with his teacher-wife Anna Dunmore herself trained as a teacher and Anna’s younger brother, Kolya — the five-year-old of The Siegenow a bumptious teenager.

Together, they’ve constructed a life of more-or-less blameless obscurity, but their peace is shattered when Andrei is called helsn to treat the son of Volkov, a senior secret police operative. Andrei and Anna find themselves plunged into dhnmore tenebrous zone spfll which logic and truth have no currency, and where their fate depends on the progress of disease in a young boy’s body.

While the world appears to have opened bg from the narrow limits imposed by the blockade, Dunmore reveals that in many ways it remains just as constrained: Dunmore’s great skill as a novelist is to swoop down from the historian’s eyrie from which everything looks ordered, familiar, sanitised by the passage of time, and plunge into the interior of daily lives.

In one of The Betrayal ‘s most effective and affecting scenes, we see Anna after a brutal encounter with the secret police, leaning over her sink in despair, but at the same time noting that “the tap has a crust of dirt around the bottom. You can’t see it from above. Our essential everyday identity is still humming along.

A Spell of Winter by Helen Dunmore

Her style isn’t to everyone’s taste. While Stevie Davies called The Siege a masterpiece, and Antony Beevor, writing in the Times, labelled it “a world-class novel”, the Observer’s reviewer, Michael Williams, helwn sold, dismissing the domestic arena through which she parses the agonies of the blockade as a “mum’s-eye view”, “less Tolstoyan than suburban”.


Dunmore refuses to apologise. Look at Sarajevo; look at the Iraqi children, dead because of inadequate medical supplies: I wanted to write a novel where people would feel an engagement with the subject — not that this was something strange and far off, which could only ever have happened in another country. I feel very passionately that it is not only legitimate to write about these people, but absolutely vital.

BBC – Radio 4 – Woman’s Hour -A Spell of Winter by Helen Dunmore

Dunmore didn’t start out as a novelist. Born in Beverley, Yorkshire, in — the year in which The Betrayal is set — she was a poet first, if no longer foremost. Z poetry was there, she says, “from earliest childhood”; after studying English at York University, she began to publish in her early 20s “and things went quite well.

I began spel, think I could be a poet in the public world. So I was delighted. Written in an implicating second-person, it tells the story of children the makers of “the malarkey” of the title who are “gone”. Dunmore herself a mother of two seems to find the possibility of such a loss magnetic: In Mourning Rubya couple are haunted by the death of their only daughter; in With Your Crooked Heartan infidelity within a tangled marriage drives a mother to drink wibter to the loss of her child. In A Spell of Winterthe impossibility of a baby lies at the shadowy centre of a skewed sibling relationship.

In The Siege and The Betrayalboth Anna and Andrei are professionally involved with children, but much of The Betrayal focuses on their want of, and desire for, a child of their own. The message seemed to be that if you were a woman you might possibly write something fine — but that there was something disabling about the production of children.

And I wondered, was this true? That you had to cut yourself off from the whole domestic, child-populated world? People have asked, about ‘The Malarkey’, what’s the meaning? And it’s impossible for me to say. To me, the point of a poem becoming a poem or a novel becoming a novel is, if it’s powerful enough, it doesn’t need me at its side — and in fact, the less I say, the better.

The strongest thing I believe about fiction is that it requires two to come forward. It’s a very deep form of play. Wars, repressive regimes and a trail of dead infants: But a large part of her brilliance as a writer is in the way she offsets harrowing issues with a deep, sensual attention to the material world. Food is a particular source of spel.

She’s said in the past that “to write of food with love is the most innocent of pornographies”, and there’s something irresistibly voluptuous about her descriptions of “lamb. These things reveal your appetites: Fiction in which people seem unaware of the sensory world which envelops them — after a while, I feel baffled by it; it’s too thin. Read Updike, and you know his characters are in their bodies, with all their embarrassments and follies.

And Woolf, although she’s so ambivalent about it.

Dunmore didn’t publish her first novel, Zennor in Darknessuntilwhen she was It’s hard to work out why I left it so late. Slell did write a couple of novels in my mids, which fortunately stayed far back in the drawer. They weren’t good enough, and I knew it.

But in my mids, I was working on a short story. I made a soell quick decisions about it and I suddenly thought, it’s happening, I’ve taken off the brakes. I’d had that with the poetry, but with prose I’d always somehow felt as if I were standing in my own way. I knew it wouldn’t be about me, because I’d done that with those two novels in my 20s. I wanted to write about a particular person, a particular time, a particular place.


Zennor in Darkness deals with the period from during which Lawrence and his German wife, Frieda, rented a cottage on a clifftop on dunmkre Cornish coast. The setting was idyllic, but the experience was, by all accounts, extremely trying: Lawrence, who was writing Women in Lovemay or may not have been having a relationship with a nearby farmer; the couple were persecuted by the locals, and finally ousted by the armed forces on account of Frieda’s suspicious dnmore.

He’s like Updike in a way: Did it spfll chutzpah, to put words in the mouth of one of her literary heroes? Not really, she says: The details intrigued me: Lawrence creating a garden, growing things like salsify, getting in tons of manure.

He knew how to do practical things — the ironing, the washing — and his combination of day-to-day good sense and the life of the mind fascinated me. I felt there were some interesting things about that particular period and about what turned him against England. Happily, the judges of the McKitterick prize given to a first novel by an author over 40 agreed. Dunmore won it, Penguin immediately offered her a two-book deal, and after that the fiction, which had taken so long to surface, poured forth — a novel annually for the next four years.

Her third, A Spell of Winterwhich she wrote while pregnant with her daughter, won the first Orange prize in Was Dunmore concerned about being at the centre of the storm; about having her gender called so publicly to attention? I’ll tell you what impressed me about it: Had they done it in a half-hearted way I think it would have fizzled out, but they didn’t. It was a huge vote of confidence. We have our social rituals and literary prizes are one of them.

The move into adult fiction in no way derailed her desire to write for children; in fact, she says, “It’s something that’s actually become more important in the last half-dozen years. Children are a completely different audience, and I enjoy that. There’s something about the way they devour books that’s wonderful; you don’t get many fans of adult fiction sending you beautiful drawings of your characters. And it frees you to layer on the suspense and narrative drama — to create lots of worlds, real and unreal, and move into them.

But at the same time, it’s just the same as adult fiction in terms of the emotions. It’s not milk and water. All these different disciplines — fiction, poetry, short stories she’s published four collections to datechildren’s novels — do they come from the same place? I know this is a novel and this is a poem, or a short story. How and why I’m not sure, but it’s always blindingly clear. Her National Poetry Competition win has paved the way, after a four-year hiatus, for a new collection.

But now there’s a nucleus there; it’s beginning to form.

A Spell of Winter

I’ve noticed, in the course of a writing life, that sometimes it’s better to wait than to force the issue. This idea that people must be producing all the time can be a terrible burden. That’s something from which working in several forms releases you.

It takes off the pressure. Women’s prize for fiction Poetry Fiction Helen Dunmore features. Order by newest oldest recommendations. Show 25 25 50 All.