The Winter of the World
Love, betrayal, and a terrible debt to pay are the themes of The Winter of the World, the debut novel of biographer and children’s book author Carol Ann Lee. The themes are familiar, but the novel plots a course of its own. It starts with a gloomily subdued narrative, on Armistice Day, November 10, 1920, when Britain communally mourns the Unknown Warrior, a nameless soldier who is about to be buried in the heart of London, in Westminster Abbey, a symbolic ceremony meant to symbolize the bringing home of the thousands of missing young men who have died in the Great War.
The novel then goes back in time, centering on Alex Dyer, a journalist who has made his reputation at the frontlines; his childhood friend, Ted Eden; and Ted’s wife, Clare, a nurse, the beautiful woman they both love. Sweepingly dramatic and mysterious, The Winter of the World is told mostly from Alex Dyer’s point of view, with Clare bringing here and there a balancing counterpoint.
Carol Ann Lee manages and succeeds with difficult narrative approaches. She can paint with an epic brush and meticulously describe apocalyptic battles, sounds, sights, and particularly smells. The landscapes too, both before and after the war, are gripping—first the nightmarish craters and thickets of barbed wire, and then the wastelands populated by ghosts and mourning families on “battlefield pilgrimages.” She can also be eloquently, poetically intimate when summoning the heartache of a forbidden encounter “in a small hotel room illuminated by remote gunfire… [when Alex] passed through the looking glass of war into another world, one that haunts him still.” There are poignant allusions to Brooke, Owen, Remarque, McCrae, and Rilke, and of a whole generation of young men sacrificed and left disabled on the fields of Flanders. Absorbing, to the very last line.