‘Love Begins In Winter’ by Simon Van Booy

LoveBeginsInWinter

Fiction – paperback; Beautiful Books; 352 pages; 2009. Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

Anyone who claims that they don’t enjoy short stories, hasn’t read this collection by Simon Van Booy. Love Begins in Winter, which won the Frank O’Connor Award for Short Fiction last year, comprises five stories about love, loss and longing in prose that is both elegant and engaging.

“From the opening line he grabs the reader’s attention and maintains focus,” said one of the judges of the  Frank O’Connor Award. “His language is lyrical and sings off the page. His stories are full of the most exquisite insights, aphoristic without ever seeming like mere conveyances for ideas.”

I couldn’t put it better myself. Indeed, I also concur with Publishers Weekly, which claims “each of these stories has moments of sheer loveliness”.

As well as the real international flavour of the settings — Canada, USA, Wales, Ireland and Sweden — and the diverse range of lives presented — musicians, doctors, diplomats, gondoliers — there’s an almost magical quality to Van Booy’s writing. And his use of language is divine, painting gorgeous pictures in just a sentence or two.

Here’s an example from the title story, about a French cello player who falls in love with a Welsh woman still traumatised by the death of her brother in childhood:

Watching my father lift the caravan onto the hitch of our family sedan
was like watching Atlas take up the world on his back. Then, on the
motorway, my brother and I nesting in the back as my mother’s hand
appeared behind the seat with a smile of orange for each of us, my
father quietly navigating our fortress to a field on a hillside at a
distance from our Welsh village unfathomable to us.

And this, from The Coming and Going of Strangers about a Romany Irish boy who falls in love with a Canadian orphan:

The landscape stretched before Walter like in a painting — lines of dark green hedgerows, a cluster of bare trees, an ancient gate hung during harvest, dots of hill sheep and then the fabric of the sea.

There’s an aching quality to his writing too (on more than one occasion I was reminded of Vikram Seth’s An Equal Music), a kind of gentle longing and a tenderness that makes the stories emotional without being saccharine. Van Booy was widowed in his early 30s (the book is dedicated to his late wife, Lorilee — “If you are not here, then why are you everywhere?”) and is now raising his young daughter alone, which might explain his penchant for characters on the brink who find renewed reasons for living when they least expect it. Above all it is a hopeful, optimistic book, full of wisdom, humanity and nostalgia.

These are the kinds of stories that wrap themselves around you in their intensity, and yet there’s something strangely calming about reading them. I found them the perfect antidote to the stresses of my working day — and the perfect length (roughly 30 to 40 pages) to devour in a lunch hour.

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6 thoughts on “‘Love Begins In Winter’ by Simon Van Booy

  1. I simply adored his first book, The Secret Lives of People in Love, so I’m actually a little disappointed in myself that I haven’t read this one yet. I’m glad you enjoyed it so much, and I’m adding it to my e-book wishlist right now!

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  2. Any book that’s “strangely calming” gets my vote. This sounds good and I’ve never heard of the author much to my shame. An interesting review

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  3. This one got sent to me for review more than a year ago. In fact, I had it long before Van Booy won the award. I kept putting off reading it, because Im not a huge fan of the short story. So, for me to enjoy it as much as I did, is really saying something. I think it works because he develops fully fledged characters from the word go, so you really come to know them in pretty much the same way you get to know characters in novels. No mean feat!

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  4. I must get hold of his first book. If it is anything like the second, it will be a real treat.
    Actually, I very much love the cover of The Secret Lives of People in Love. It complements Love Begins in Winter nicely, too. Not that I judge books by their covers or anything… LOL.

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  5. I generally don’t enjoy short stories… but I’ve also never read Van Booy! I would really like to, and your review has certainly made me more anxious to. I find the title of his collections wonderfully dreamy, so I can only imagine how rich and satisfying the actual books must be.

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  6. Admittedly, I prefer novels, because I love getting involved in the characters lives. Short stories are often too short to allow that involvement to happen. But the beauty of Van Booys work is that each story has the feel of a novel – they all feature strong characterisation, plotting and narrative. Terrific stuff!

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