A Place Called Winter – Patrick Gale

APCWWe joined the Cardiff group for this one, with the author.

Harry is taken from an asylum to a Quaker researcher in a country house and hypnotised. The description of the asylum with its crowded beds is accurate – I once visited Glenside Hospital Museum which documents such places.

Harry is shy and receives an inheritance, marries a woman who tells him, on honeymoon that she loves another man and divorces him for desertion.

His father was distant, like Barnaby’s in A Perfectly Good man.

He has land and there’s character in another book of Gales who has lots of tenants

Quakers and Toronto also feature in Notes on an Exhibition

I liked this observation: “I’m fifty next year,” the doctor admitted. “I’ve brought countless souls into the world and ushered a good few out of it. I’ve saved lives and shattered them and still a part of me feels as though I’m not long out of short trousers. I cheer myself with the conviction that most men are pretending to a maturity they do not feel. They swagger and pose and grow beards to hide behind, but they spend most of their lives secretly afraid and ill-equipped, as scared of women as they are of one another.”

No longer sung is the hymn verse about savages from ‘Jesus shall reign where’er the sun’

Hard labour would have been the punishment – so he does hard labour anyway.

Unlike Gale’s recent novels, the story is linear except for the mental hospitals and there are few characters and vast open spaces.

There are vivid descriptions of nature and harvesting and a surprising tolerance by one man of his brother’s homosexuality. Canada was well researched. The author said that he did such research after writing the basic outline of the story so as not to get bogged down in details that would inhibit his creativity.

Harry marries another woman after she is raped and her brother missing in action after being given the white feathers of a supposed coward who ended up in a German POW camp and lost his foot.

The ‘flu carried off more people than the trenches and spread throughout Canada rapidly via. the railway system.

We get a happy ending

As a pacifist, I enjoyed the rapist being murdered

I had to look up ‘febrile’ = having or showing the symptoms of a fever, “a febrile illness” characterized by a great deal of nervous excitement or energy. Cf. “the febrile atmosphere of the city”

Also ‘lambent’ = glowing, gleaming, or flickering with a soft radiance.

‘Salsify’ = a plant with linear leaves cultivated for its light-skinned edible root and herbal properties


 Petra: “It’s funny,” she said. “I’ve never had romantic dreams, even as a young girl. I think Mother was too efficacious an inoculation for that, as were the glimpses I had, through father’s patients, of the realities of what man could do to woman. But I was curious all the same, to hope I might… experience everything, in due course, some day, and with a man I respected. Now I feel a bit stupid, like a miser who has saved up a precious jewel in the dark only to have it stolen.”


She tapped her glass with her fingernails, shy of meeting his eye. “Is it… Is it emotional or simply a physical need the two of you are answering?”

“When I’m with Paul?”

She nodded, glancing up and away.

“I suppose, in a different world,” he began carefully, “if everyone felt differently, it would be both. When a thing has always been forbidden and must live in darkness and silence, it’s hard to know how it might be, if allowed to thrive.”

“I wonder,” she said, “if everything were allowed, how many men would discover they were like you? I sometimes think most men dislike women intensely or resent them or something, and only marry them because that is what is expected, and because of children. And because no other option presents itself.”

“Oh but I like women very much!”

“Oh. Good. Only not…?”

“Not quite so much. No.”


Harry: He had dreaded the coming of winter at Moose Jaw, partly because his little room was so cold, but mainly because the Jorgensens viewed it with such unremitting alarm as a season of death, danger and Nordic introspection. The Slaymakers, by contrast, seemed to regard it as children did Christmas, as a time of excitement and opportunity. She looked forward to being able to read in the daytime without guilt, and he could hardly wait to strap on his skis or to get out the little sleigh he had spent much of the last winter restoring. Harry found their attitudes were infections to the point where he almost looked forward to waking to find the windows crystalled over.

 “I hate that word,” she said with surprising passion. “Berdache.”

“I don’t remember him using it.

“A man dressed in women’s clothes driven to the most servile and degrading duties,” she quoted. “I looked it up just now. It’s what the priest used to encourage the others to call me at school.”

“It’s Frenchified Arabic, I think. It means slave prostitute.”

“Oh dear. What would you rather call it?”

She said something, in Plains Cree presumably, so softly he couldn’t quite catch it but it sounded like ayarkwoo. “Translation is impossible since it could mean either both man and woman or neither man nor woman. In English I like to call it two-souls.

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