THE WINTER GHOSTS by Kate Mosse

Book Quote:

” ‘I am Fabrissa.’ ”

That was it, that was all she said. But it was enough. Already her voice was familiar to me, beloved.”

Book Review:

Review by Lynn Harnett  (JUL 10, 2011)

Mosse gives her beguiling novel an old fashioned gothic framework that suits this eerie story of ghostly love in an insular mountain village of France a decade after WWI. The story opens in 1933 as Frederick Watson visits an antiquarian bookseller in Toulouse. “He walked like a man recently returned to the world. Every step was careful, deliberate. Every step to be relished.” Well-dressed and confident, Watson knows his appearance contrasts sharply with his last visit to Toulouse in 1928 at age 25. “He had been another man then, a tattered man, worn threadbare by grief.”

He hands the bookseller a parchment document to translate, which, the man tells him, dates from medieval days and is written in the local language of the time. The bookseller asks how Watson came to possess the parchment and Watson tells him the story of his strange visit to the Pyrenees in 1928. This first-person narrative forms the bulk of the novel.

For a decade Watson had been consumed by sorrow for his elder brother, George, killed in the war when the younger boy was in his teens. His parents and his friends have lost patience with him. His father is ashamed of him for his lack of backbone; his mother was never much interested in him in the first place. George had been the center of the family. “It was his presence that had made us a family, the glue. Without him we were three strangers with nothing to say.”

The French motor tour, prescribed by his doctor, has taken him into the foothills of the Pyrenees. One tormented night he steps to the edge of a cliff, then steps back. “Was it courage or cowardice that stopped me? Still I cannot say. Even now, I find it hard to tell those imposters one from the other.” The moment marks the beginning of his recovery. He joins a convivial tavern crowd that evening in toasting the new prosperity of their town and begins to understand the human need to move forward.

Still as his journey into the mountains continues, his mood swings; the landscape grows more alien and menacing, the sky more threatening. His aloneness is tangible and then a voice – singing, whispering – sounds plaintively. Watson goes on, but is soon caught in a sudden violent blizzard. His car goes off the road, narrowly avoiding a mortal plunge into a ravine, and he is left to find his way down the mountain to the nearest village.

Which he does, coming to rest at a charming little inn, where he is invited by the innkeeper to a village fete taking place that very night.

And from here the narration becomes deliciously unreliable as Watson makes his solitary way to the fete through narrow and deserted village streets, getting hopelessly lost in the silent night before torchlight and voices guide him to a hall where he’s swept up in a friendly whirl of villagers dressed in medieval clothing, seated at long tables, eating from trenchers.

His own dinner companion is a girl whose beauty is exceeded only by her instinctive understanding. Watson finds himself falling in love with a woman who seems to know him better than he knows himself. But their evening is not destined for a fairytale ending. Not the happy-ever-after kind anyway.

Mosse’s writing is wonderfully spooky as she explores the emotional resonance of grief, loneliness and an unwillingness to let go and move on (why, for instance, are people impatient with this lingering grief?) meld with the redeeming power of love and the repeating cycles of man’s brutality to man, i.e. war and atrocity.

The novel’s form is comfortingly familiar – did Watson hit his head in the accident or fall prey to a fever as the modern villagers believe, or was his emotional state particularly attuned to the unresolved tragedy that remained hidden in the hills?

Poignant and eerie, and steeped in French country atmosphere, this is a novel that should appeal to fans of literary ghost stories.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-3-0from 28 readers
PUBLISHER: Putnam Adult (February 3, 2011)
REVIEWER: Lynn Harnett
AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK? YES! Start Reading Now!
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Kate Mosse
EXTRAS: Reading Guide
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read our review of:

Bibliography:

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July 10, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , , , ,  · Posted in: 2011 Favorites, Facing History, France, Mystery/Suspense, Psychological Suspense

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