A Mind of Winter
Oscar Harcourt is an enigmatic English art collector living on an opulent estate on Long Island, six years and thousands of miles from a Germany rent by war. Every weekend, the well-heeled escape from the city to his Ellis Park and help to chase away his memories with dancing, chatter, and the inanity of a generation trying to forget a war. One of his regular guests is Marilyn, a photographer trying to reconcile pictures of orphans standing amid the ruins of the London Blitz and prisoners amid the fences of concentration camps with the glitz and frivolity of post-war New York City. She cannot confide in her husband, Simon, who stays back in the city, writing. At Ellis Park, she stays awake late and alone, sorting through photos for an exhibition, while trying not to lose her tenuous grip on a delicate and beautiful marriage. Marilyn reminds Oscar of his first love, Christine, who left him unexpectedly one day for Shanghai. He doesn’t know that she’d discovered a secret in his desk, a secret that causes her to flee. In the opium dens, Christine looks for forgetfulness. These stories don’t seem connected at first, until a night in 1951 when a visitor slips into Oscar’s study, a visitor who speaks German and stirs up long-buried memories of the war for everyone.
In this dense, psychological thriller, Christine, Marilyn, and finally Oscar take a turn in telling the story, in uncovering the mystery that is Oscar Harcourt. They take us from pre-war Germany to a London crumbling under the Blitz, from the opium-swirled streets of Shanghai to post-war Long Island. The moral questions that dogged each through the war, the guilt that lingers after, Oscar’s hidden past binds them all in ways they couldn’t anticipate. The prose is gorgeous, the twists compelling, the secrets dripped in neatly. This is a novel to be digested.