Laura Kasischke: Mind of Winter (2014)

Mind Of Winter

I wonder sometimes whether authors prefer we read their books very slowly, savouring every word or whether they take it as a compliment if we devour a novel in one sitting. I don’t think Laura Kasischke’s going to pop in and let me know how she feels about the way I read her latest novel Mind of Winter. I bought it, started reading on the tram, kept on reading at home – resenting even the shortest interruptions – and finished it a couple of hours later. I don’t do that very often and if I do, it means that I found a book highly enthralling and couldn’t wait to find out what’s going on. Not a bad thing for a psychological thriller, right?

Mind of Winter (which I discovered on Tony’s Book World here) takes place on December 25, during one snowy day. Holly Judges, a poet, who has been suffering from writer’s block for decades, wakes late on Christmas morning. Her husband dashes out the door to get his parents at the airport, their daughter Tatty – Tatiana – is still sleeping. Holly, who woke from a nightmare, tries to make sense of a sentence that haunted her when she woke up “Something had followed them from Russia.”

Moving back and forth in time we hear about the adoption of Holly’s daughter, thirteen years ago, from a Russian orphanage and we witness how this Christmas day develops. It’s snowing constantly and after a few hours it’s obvious that neither friends nor family will make it and join Holly and Tatty for their traditional Christmas meal.

Inside of the house tensions rise. Tatiana not only displays the moodiness of a teenager but behaves more and more erratic.

There are many dark elements of the past mentioned – dead animals, neighbours who don’t speak to Holly anymore, a family history of hereditary cancer and much more. In the beginning there are just a couple of words that hint at something sinister but then, more information is added on every page, a fuller picture emerges and the reader is wondering constantly what really happened in the past and what is going on in the present.

Saying more would spoil this utterly compelling novel. There’s just one tiny thing that I feel I have to reveal—while the atmosphere is dark and brooding, and the book is more than a little creepy at times, there’s no supernatural explanation. As much as I love ghost stories, I really hate it when a psychological thriller takes the easy way out and uses some lame paranormal explanation for the things that go on.

This is a tightly woven novel, a real page-turner, but still a book that explores a huge amount of interesting themes like hereditary disease, writer’s block, poetry, motherhood, family  . . .  I know I’ll be returning to this author soon.

Laura Kasischke isn’t only a novelist, she’s also a poet. It’s not surprising that poetry is important in this book. I’m grateful that she introduce me to a whole bunch of poets I didn’t know and to the poem referred to in the title,  Wallace Stevens’  The Snow Man.

The Snow Man

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

 

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

 

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

 

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

 

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

35 thoughts on “Laura Kasischke: Mind of Winter (2014)

  1. Speaking only for myself, if someone reads one of my books in a day I tend to think “I spent months writing and editing that, the least you could have done was pace yourself””.

    Yet if I’m stalking a reader on Goodreads I’ll get annoyed at them for taking so long to update their progress status.

    Life is tricksy.

    • Very tricksy. In my case it can mean two things when I read very slowly. Either I love it so much or I find it utterly boring. But those I love and read slowly tend to be more literary than genre.

  2. Back in the mists of time, I once read four books in a day…. It was a Sunday when I had nothing else to do, but it was a fabulous experience. For a book to grab you the way this one did should be seen as a tribute – and you can always go back and re-read it slowly….🙂

    • It’s so rare for me to do that.
      Four books in a day is quite an achievement. Exactly, I can go back and re-read. It might even still be good because it’s very tightly written and even when you know the twist it ahs interesting elements.

  3. I love the sound of this author – creepy books for adults? Just up my street! I’m with you on the supernatural explanation being a cop-out (although some authors seem to box themselves into a corner with that one!) This is definitely a name I’ll be noting thank you!

    • I hope you’ll enjoy her. I thought this one was terrfic. She received prizes for some of her older books.
      I don’t mind a ghost story but not in case like this – she plays with the assumption though, so I wasn’t sure I should say anything.

  4. Great review, Caroline. I’m in the mood for thillers right now,so will add this to the list.
    Interesting question you posed. If I had spent years writing a novel I might be a bit miffed that people raced through it. But as a reader I love books that I want to savor, but can’t wait to see how they end.

    • I hope you will like it. It’s her shortest by the wy, so if you like this, you can always pick a longer one later.
      As an author it might be a bit painful but it also means the reader will pick up another one and that counts too.🙂

  5. Beautiful review, Caroline. I love everything about the book – the title, the cover picture, the author’s second name, the theme and the fact that it has poetry in it. I also loved this sentence from your review – “I really hate it when a psychological thriller takes the easy way out and uses some lame paranormal explanation for the things that go on.”🙂 It is one more reason to like the book. Nice to know that you read the book in one sitting and couldn’t do anything else till you finished reading it. That is definitely a sign of a gripping, fascinating book. I tend to read at different speeds with respect to different books and for thrillers, I always want to turn the page and find out what happens next and if the pages move fast that is always a sign of a good thriller. I loved that Wallace Stevens poem. Thanks for sharing it.

    • Thanks, Vishy.
      I think you’d love this. And I found so many other wonderful poets in this.
      This was the book I read on that snow afternoon I mentioned, btw. It was perfect. I agree, this is the perfect package (title, cover, story).
      I found it in the crime section of the book shop but once I started reading I felt there might be a paranormal explanation. I didn’t want to go back to Tony’s review until I finished though. I was glad it wasn’t an easy ending. It’s a very surprising ending. I’d love to know what you think of it. I need to read more Wallace Stevens. This is such a beautiful poem.

  6. You make this sound so appealing Caroline. I love mysterious and dark secrets lurking in our past.

    I think that it is fine reading a book like you did is just fine. Not everything should be read like that, but it is one way to do it. I would guess that an author would feel complimented.

    • There’s a very dars secret at the heart of this and it just goes to show that many things that could happen in reality are far more terrible than some ghost.
      I hope she’d think of it as a compliment.

  7. She’s very famous in France. I’ve read Boys Heaven and it was excellent. Dark, well written. It seems like this one’s fantastic too.
    I should read another one by her.

  8. I love books like this where you get so lost in the story you literally don’t want to leave it or put the book down. For me that is a sign of a very good read! It sounds like she does everything just right-I like a story that unfolds slowly and moves from place to place and time to time. I have heard of her but I have never had a chance to read her books–must go look her up now! Perfect reading for a snowy day (which is what I am currently having….).🙂

  9. We’re having a spell of hot and humid weather with fierce thunderstorms and bushfires, so reading about Stevens’ ‘January sun’ made me smile. I do love that poem, though.

    You make the book sound intriguing. I’ll have to check it out. I’m not sure that I can deal with too much scariness, though. I’m a bit prone to nightmares but as there isn’t any chance of getting snowed in here, it shouldn’t be a real problem for me.🙂 I’m glad you enjoyed it so much. It’s lovely to discover a new author with a decent-sized back catalogue.

    • It snowed exactly twice this year – both times the snow was gone the next day. I read this on one of those days but even without snow – it has some dark moments which are realistic not spooky.
      Russian orphanages have a very bad reputation. I know someone who adopted a kid from there. So that’s the horrible and depressing part.
      I’m glad I discovered her but maybe she’s not for you.

  10. Pingback: Mind of Winter by Laura Kasischke | findingtimetowrite

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