Blurb from Goodreads
In the Midst of Winter begins with a minor traffic accident—which becomes the catalyst for an unexpected and moving love story between two people who thought they were deep into the winter of their lives. Richard Bowmaster—a 60-year-old human rights scholar—hits the car of Evelyn Ortega—a young, undocumented immigrant from Guatemala—in the middle of a snowstorm in Brooklyn.
What at first seems just a small inconvenience takes an unforeseen and far more serious turn when Evelyn turns up at the professor’s house seeking help. At a loss, the professor asks his tenant Lucia Maraz—a 62-year-old lecturer from Chile—for her advice.
These three very different people are brought together in a mesmerising story that moves from present-day Brooklyn to Guatemala in the recent past to 1970s Chile and Brazil, sparking the beginning of a long overdue love story between Richard and Lucia.
‘In the Midst of Winter’ is a beautifully written and quietly charming novel. In this story we are introduced to three characters, Lucia Maraz, Richard Bowmaster and Evelyn Ortega, whose lives become inextricably interlinked over the course of a few days in a winter storm in New York.
Simply put Lucia is a goddess. I love her. She’s complex, she’s wise, a bit batty, definitely lonely, incredibly funny and wonderfully dynamic… At almost sixty-two it feels like she has lived a 100 different lives, most of them harsh and tragic but yet still has a wonderful sense of joie de vivre. Lucia’s landlord is Richard. Richard is an older man who initially appears to be a rather curmudgeonly sort but as the book unravels we see the burdens of his life. And then there is Evelyn, the quiet mystery. A deeply frightened young woman whose introduction to Lucia and Richard is the catalyst for a strange few days in a frozen New York complete with flashbacks to the individual lives of these three main characters. Each backstory is sumptuously rich in detail and takes the reader back in time to Chile, Brazil and Guatemala.
There is much to love about this book. The prose will easily transport you away from wherever you are reading this and you will become lost in the worlds of these characters. The writing is without a doubt the strongest aspect of the book. It is incredibly atmospheric giving a wonderful, wintry stillness throughout the novel that echoes the book’s title and the setting for the meeting of these three main characters. However, at times the story itself felt a little disjointed. It took me a good one third of the book to really feel invested in any of the backstories of the main characters as each story was unraveled rather slowly and I felt unable to truly connect their past lives to the present unfurling event. Despite that I must say that the individual back stories were well written and to my mind there was even potential for actual entire novels to be created out of them. Well perhaps more so Evelyn’s and Lucia’s pasts. Richard’s was my least favourite as I found it a little less complete as the other two but that is a minor quibble as I was still incredibly moved by it.
The characterisations were very strong. I felt that each of the main characters were full of vitality with each holding their own storyline very well and touching my heart in different ways. And there is a beautifully written love story between Lucia and Richard. It’s always there in the novel but somehow sneaks up on you too. Wonderfully plotted.
The weakest aspect of the book for me was the reason as to why these characters lives came together. It is difficult to explain without spoiling the plot of the book so I hope you will forgive me for reviewing the plot in such a roundabout fashion. Initially it was an intriguing mystery and I was captivated. However as the characters were drawn deeper and deeper into this mystery it felt more unrealistic to me in that it was an entirely unfathomable situation rather than something whimsical that would be easier to believe. It was just a leap too far for me to take as a reader.
This is the very first book I have read by Isabel Allende and from reading other ARC reviews of this I am certain that this is not her best work. I could argue for a four and a half star rating for this book because of the quality of the prose and the characterisations but my issues with the plot would bring it back to a three and a half star rating (a positive rating in my opinion). Ultimately I am settling on a positive rating of four stars and would recommend this novel to anyone who loves reading books with beautiful prose and strong characters.
On a final note I am very much looking forward to reading more of Isabel Allende’s writing in the future.
An eCopy of this book was kindly provided to me by the publisher, Scribner UK a division of Simon and Schuster, via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Published November 2017