The Winter Vault

The Winter Vault

Book - 2009
Average Rating:
Rate this:
The long-awaited novel by the internationally celebrated author of Fugitive Pieces , the debut novel that catapulted Anne Michaels into the forefront of literary superstars.

"The future casts its shadow on the past. In this way, first gestures contain everything . . ."

Anne Michaels's first work of fiction in more than a decade, The Winter Vault is a stunning, richly layered, and timeless novel that is everything we could hope for for Michaels's second novel -- and more. Set in Canada and Egypt, and with flashbacks to England and Poland after the war, The Winter Vault is a spellbinding love story that juxtaposes momentous historical events with the most intimate moments of individual lives.

In 1964, a newly married Canadian couple settle into a houseboat on the Nile just below Abu Simbel. At the time of the building of the Aswam dam, Avery Escher is one of the engineers responsible for the dismantling and reconstruction of a sacred temple, a "machine-worshipper" who is nonetheless sensitive to their destructive power. Jean is a botanist by avocation, passionately interested in everything that grows. They met on the banks of the St. Lawrence River, witnessing the construction of the Seaway as it swallowed towns, homes, and lives. Now, at the edge of another world about to be inundated in the name of progress, much of what they most believe in is tested.

When a tragic event occurs, nearing the end of Avery's time in Egypt, he and Jean return to separate lives in Toronto; Avery to school to study architecture and Jean into the orbit of Lucjan, a Polish émigré artist whose haunting tales of occupied Warsaw pull her further from her husband, while offering her the chance to assume her most essential life.

Breathtaking, vivid in its exploration of both the physical and emotional worlds of its characters, intensely moving and lyrical, The Winter Vault is a radiant work of fiction and contains all the elements for which Anne Michaels is celebrated.

From the Hardcover edition.
Publisher: Toronto : McClelland & Stewart, c2009.
ISBN: 9780771058905
Characteristics: 341 p. ;,22 cm.


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment
May 30, 2014

It seemed like several stories that had been contrived to blend, not very smoothly, into one. A big chunk that never blended in for me was the detailed story of the Eastern European artist colony living on the edges of Toronto society, having sex and idyllic skating parties. What? The author critical of both the St. Lawrence Seaway project and the United Nations sponsored Abu Simbel temple relocation project. Yes in hindsight. But documents from those times laud both as great engineering achievements. The author does not bother to capture any of the flavour of achievement surrounding both projects (40 nations issued postage stamps of Abu Simbel in the 1960s) and views them both through entirely modern lenses, even when the characterization is taking place in the past.

Jul 27, 2012

Ponderous and unreadable.

May 09, 2012

Brilliant writing, as only Anne Michaels can create. Having experienced the flooding of the Lost Villages to the creation on the St. Lawrence Seaway, this novel so beautifully expresses those haunting feelings of my youth.

Oct 20, 2011

too heavy

graphiste Jun 22, 2011

This goes on my list as one my all time favourites. It's a difficult book to describe: a tale of enduring love, grief and loss, but also a narration of two monumental engineering projects of modern times - the Aswan Dam and the St. Lawrence Seaway - and the enormous displacement of populations that resulted. Michaels prose reads like poetry - a quilt of brief vignettes stitched together with heart-wrenchingly beautiful language. The characters are real and complex - not meant for readers looking for tidy resolutions.

debwalker Apr 02, 2011

The story begins in 1964, with a Canadian couple living in a houseboat on the Nile River, where he is an engineer helping to move the temple of Abu Simbel above the rising waters south of the Aswan Dam. A tragedy takes them back to Toronto, where they separate, until the woman finds new love with a Polish refugee artist.

AnneDromeda Mar 24, 2011

<p>Oh my. I love Anne Michaels' writing, I really do. I don't think there's anyone else currently writing who crafts a more beautiful sentence than she does. And that's why I finished this book - the writing was unbelievable.</p>

<p>I can't say I really loved this book, though - I kept getting hung up on how much I didn't really like Jean. I could sympathize with her, sure, but she's just so <i>sentimental</i>. I mean, did she do anything other than cry at Avery for their first several dates? Over what? And then she leaves him and spends some time screwing around with another guy whose life puts her emotional baggage in some perspective, and Avery just waits around? <i>Seriously?</i></p>

<p>I had this friend in high school who kept dating the same jerk who cheated on her, and every time it happened she'd react as though she'd lost everything. One day, on the 108th retelling of her woes, my right foot flew out <i>completely involuntarily</i> and kicked her in the shin. I just couldn't take it anymore. And you know? This book gave me the same feeling of senseless futility. I wanted to kick Jean in the shin. I really did.</p>

<p>That said, the research done for this book is top-notch, so readers wishing to be whisked away to Egypt or Eastern Ontario can save themselves some time and money if they pick up <i>The Winter Vault</i> instead. And it was kind of interesting to read a book in which the tortured anti-hero all the others lust after is a woman, rather than the surly man-child artist that populates so much of our fiction shelves. I certainly don't regret the time I spent with this book, and I suspect that readers with more patience and tolerance for self-defeatist people will find Jean likable and even interesting. Don't let my misgivings hold you back - <i>The Winter Vault</i> is a lyrical masterpiece built on a flawless research process, and does deserve your time.</p>

Dec 30, 2010

I enjoyed this book especially after I got through the first half. The first half seems unnecessarily disjointed and also hard to follow as a narrative. The second half was much more interesting. The characters Jean and her new boyfriend were very interesting. I liked their creative activities that they participated in. Did not find the relationship of Avery and Jean to be compelling at all. Very sad in parts.

Oct 27, 2010

Probably the dullest, most boring book I have ever finished. I only finished it because it is a selection for my book club.

I wanted to stop after 50 pages.

Nothing, absolutely nothing happens to the people in the book that is interesting. I never cared at all about any of them.

Save your time and read something good.

Aug 27, 2010

Story evolves around the building of the Answan Dam, and the St Lawrence Seaway.

View All Comments


Add a Quote
May 07, 2010

We have imprisoned space between what we have built: waste space too narrow for anything but litter, dark walkways from carparks to the street; the endless, dead space of underground garages; the corridors between skyscrapers; the space surrounding industrial rubbish bins and ventilator shafts … the built world has created a despair of space, like seeds of futility, small pockets on the earth where no one is meant to be alive.

Aug 18, 2009

It is our displacement that binds us.

Aug 14, 2009

What a blessed life, to live in such a way that our choices would be the same, even on the last day.

Age Suitability

Add Age Suitability

There are no age suitabilities for this title yet.


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings


Find it at Library

To Top