by Laurence Fearnley Penguin Random House RRP $36
Forty-five-year-old Roland never felt like he fitted in growing up in Lake Matariki. He spent most of his childhood and teenage years “feeling rejected and telling himself it didn’t matter”, and dreaming of
escape. But after his mother dies, Roland feels compelled to stay and look after his two brothers and sister, to ensure they finish school and that they are safe. Only no one is safe – his sister Casey dies shortly after from melanoma, and then his youngest brother Isaac disappears in a mysterious boating accident. Years later, there’s only Eddie left in the old house in the Mackenzie. Roland’s finally left for Sydney, where he lives with his partner, Leon, building their wholefoods business, Kernel.
And then, one day, a phone call – Eddie’s dead. Driven off the icy roads into the canal. The last surviving family member, Roland travels home to try to understand his brother, his family, and himself.
He returns to the Mackenzie region in the depths of winter, with its thick snow and whiteouts. He is forced to re-encounter himself and his memories, such as sitting on the school bus, cradling his frozen feet in his hands; he remembers the “agony of thawing out, and, eventually, the relief as feeling returned”. It’s an apt metaphor for the book, the thawing out of the reserved, sheltered human heart.
Fearnley’s last novel, Scented, was a narrative heavily influenced by the power of perfume and our sense of smell. Winter Time, she writes in her author’s note, is the second in her series of novels based on the senses: this one, she says, is concerned with touch, but it’s also a visual novel, full of specificity and minute detail, a fascination with landscape, in particular the awe-inspiring setting of Te Waipounamu. “From the water through to the pale silver-blue of the slopes and then the bands of bright blue sky, the landscape struck him as being timeless, or rather, outside of time, existing beyond the world of ordinary humans.”
With passages like this, Winter Time reads like a love song to the mountains, to the untouched beauty of the natural world. There’s discussion in the novel about the conflict between those who are pro- development and the Nimbys, who want nothing to change, which works neatly with the themes of the destructive properties of nature versus the destructive nature of humans.
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