Winter Journey / Isabel Colgate
London: Penguin, c1996.
If you are in the mood for a slow-moving, reflective look at sibling relationships in middle age, complete with relevant musings on English history, this is the book for you.
Edith and Alfred are siblings who are not much alike, though they have a decent relationship. Edith is coming back for a visit to the family farm, upon which Alfred now lives, having returned home after a long career as a photographer. Alfred is a bit dreamy and slow-moving in comparison to Edith, a busy, successful Parlementarian.
The question is, now, what to do with the farm and the holdings? How can Alfred continue living there, and how do Edith's ideas for the place work when she doesn't own it, but feels she has a moral share in it? Will modernity and noise and people win out, or will Alfred's longing to just be left alone prevail? And will their relationship survive it all?
Well, it's not as dramatic as all that, even though all these questions do arise. There is much talk about how both of them got to this point in middle-age. And how age changes things, both physically and philosophically. In discussions about the family life of their hired help, modern issues rear their heads - domestic violence, divorce, gender relations - while in their restrainedly heated conversations, their conflicting ideas about what to do with the place (sell? renovate? open an artist's colony? make a motocross track like their neighbour? No to the last, at least) affect their lifelong power balance.
The pace is slow here; the language is rich, and the sentences long. They reflect the long and winding thought processes that both siblings are undergoing now that life itself is slowing down and ambition decreasing. When you wish to reach for a story based in character and sense of place, that relies on introspection and reflection to drive what plot there is, this is a good pick. That is not as negative as it sounds -- for this kind of read, Winter Journey is a great choice. Edith was a character I really enjoyed, and Alfred's own centrality to the story is moving. Perfect for a slow winter's night's reading.