The Winter House - Nicci Gerrard
Review by Lizzie Guilfoyle
WITH Sean French, Nicci Gerrard is the co-author of the bestselling Nicci French thrillers. However, when it comes to The Winter House, she’s a novelist – and a very good one – in her own right.
The Winter House, a secluded cottage in the Scottish highlands, is where Marnie, Ralph and Oliver are reunited after more than twenty years apart. As teenagers, they were bound by ties of friendship – until love got in the way and drove them apart. Now Ralph is dying – struck down by pancreatic cancer – and Marnie and Olivier are there to share with him his last precious days.
For all three, it’s a journey into the past, a time to reflect on family relationships, friendship, unrequited love and grief.
Although The Winter House deals with a dark subject, it isn’t necessarily depressing. However, anyone who has lost a loved one to cancer will probably find it a little too close for comfort. It’s also a sombre reminder that time waits for no man and as such, is an unwelcome reminder of our own mortality.
As you would expect, The Winter House is well written, the characters well drawn and totally believable. Whether you like them or not is another matter. However, French’s perception of human nature – from adolescence onward – is such that I feel sure readers of all ages will recognize something of themselves in one or all of the characters.
For the most part, the story unfolds through the eyes, ears and mind of Marnie who, by talking to Ralph even though she isn’t sure he can hear her, links the past with the present. But in a clever ploy, French also reveals Ralph’s unspoken memories. Running in tandem with Marnie’s, they add depth and an entirely different perspective to past events.
The beautiful but isolated wintry setting of The Winter House highlights Marnie and Oliver’s isolation and the dreamlike quality of the reunion, and gives Gerrard ample opportunity to demonstrate her skill with descriptive prose.
However, it’s not confined to the surrounding landscape but to the characters themselves – to Oliver whose chin was ‘metallic with stubble’; to Ralph who once shaved his head and ‘looked both grotesque and beautiful, like a sexless alien with his gleaming skull and enormous eyes’; and Marnie’s mother Emma, whose ageing body was suffering ‘from the pull of gravity’.
The Winter House is a compelling read and deserves more than to be trifled with simply for the sake of morbid curiosity. Besides, despite its subject matter, it’s certainly not all doom and gloom and the ending, though not totally unexpected, is more than satisfying. So, a good read and one that won’t disappoint.
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