I wonder sometimes whether authors prefer we read their books very slowly, savouring every word or whether they take it as a compliment if we devour a novel in one sitting. I don’t think Laura Kasischke’s going to pop in and let me know how she feels about the way I read her latest novel Mind of Winter. I bought it, started reading on the tram, kept on reading at home – resenting even the shortest interruptions – and finished it a couple of hours later. I don’t do that very often and if I do, it means that I found a book highly enthralling and couldn’t wait to find out what’s going on. Not a bad thing for a psychological thriller, right?
Mind of Winter (which I discovered on Tony’s Book World here) takes place on December 25, during one snowy day. Holly Judges, a poet, who has been suffering from writer’s block for decades, wakes late on Christmas morning. Her husband dashes out the door to get his parents at the airport, their daughter Tatty – Tatiana – is still sleeping. Holly, who woke from a nightmare, tries to make sense of a sentence that haunted her when she woke up “Something had followed them from Russia.”
Moving back and forth in time we hear about the adoption of Holly’s daughter, thirteen years ago, from a Russian orphanage and we witness how this Christmas day develops. It’s snowing constantly and after a few hours it’s obvious that neither friends nor family will make it and join Holly and Tatty for their traditional Christmas meal.
Inside of the house tensions rise. Tatiana not only displays the moodiness of a teenager but behaves more and more erratic.
There are many dark elements of the past mentioned – dead animals, neighbours who don’t speak to Holly anymore, a family history of hereditary cancer and much more. In the beginning there are just a couple of words that hint at something sinister but then, more information is added on every page, a fuller picture emerges and the reader is wondering constantly what really happened in the past and what is going on in the present.
Saying more would spoil this utterly compelling novel. There’s just one tiny thing that I feel I have to reveal—while the atmosphere is dark and brooding, and the book is more than a little creepy at times, there’s no supernatural explanation. As much as I love ghost stories, I really hate it when a psychological thriller takes the easy way out and uses some lame paranormal explanation for the things that go on.
This is a tightly woven novel, a real page-turner, but still a book that explores a huge amount of interesting themes like hereditary disease, writer’s block, poetry, motherhood, family . . . I know I’ll be returning to this author soon.
Laura Kasischke isn’t only a novelist, she’s also a poet. It’s not surprising that poetry is important in this book. I’m grateful that she introduce me to a whole bunch of poets I didn’t know and to the poem referred to in the title, Wallace Stevens’ The Snow Man.
The Snow Man