Half the World in Winter

Written by Maggie Joel
Review by Ann Northfield

Set in 1880, the novel begins with a train accident in which three people are killed. The life of bereaved father Thomas Brinklow becomes intertwined with that of the Jarmyn family, who own the railway. This family, too, has known terrible loss, due to the death of the youngest daughter, Sophie. Diana, the surviving daughter, is a key character, and her attempts to cope with the grief of her parents and her own feelings are central.

The novel also raises interesting questions about business. In the early days of the railway, the safety features we take for granted today were by no means ubiquitous. Safety costs money, and if there is no law enforcing these measures, why should businesses trouble themselves with them? Ultimately it is a question of conscience and perhaps also the fear of bad publicity. It certainly makes the reader think more about how and why these safety rules came about, often through painful and deadly experience.

I found this book enormously enjoyable and hope it will be a big success. The dry humour interspersed with tension and tragedy make the pages turn quickly. The absurdity of life is demonstrated clearly. Romantic ideals are brought crashing down, and the focus upon small details amidst big events serves to remind the reader how inconsequential we are ultimately in the scale of things. It’s thought-provoking and entertaining, with strong characters and plot, and I will be looking out for more of Ms Joel’s work.