Reviews of Winter

Review by Alison Lurie in The New York Review of Books, April 7th 2016:
'Over the past two decades, many good Famous Writer Novels have been written, in some cases by contemporary Famous Writers like David Lodge, Colm Tóibín, and Michael Cunningham. Christopher Nicholson, though relatively unknown, has now produced one of the best. For the past twenty-five years he has lived quietly in the center of Hardy's Wessex, on the border between Wiltshire and Dorset. He knows the countryside and its history well, and it shows in Winter. Nicholson is also the author of two earlier novels: The Fattest Man in America (2005), the comic-gothic account of an incredibly obese Texan who becomes a carnival attraction, and The Elephant Keeper (2009), an entertaining and often moving tale of the relationship between a stable boy called Tom and the elephant he cares for on a great eighteenth-century estate. In Winter, which takes place closer to home and to our own time, he has gone beyond these earlier works, and written an absolutely first-rate novel.'

Review by Paul Dunn in 'The Times', 11th January 2014:
'You don't have to love Hardy to love this tribute.... Nicholson's opening is pitch perfect.....a novel shrouded in ice, fog and the dark shadows of the trees that tower over Max Gate....The elegiac tone reaches its climax in a beautifully extended passage, with Hardy sitting alone in his study in the twilight, waiting for the lights to be lit, imagining his own funeral...

'Winter is only Nicholson's third novel, and he has already been listed for the Costa Best Novel Award. It is brave to set yourself up for comparison with an author as great as Hardy but this poetic and unashamedly literary book is good enough not to be embarrassed by the company it keeps.'

Review by Ian Sansom in 'The Guardian', 18th January 2014:
'Nicholson's understated prose perfectly suits this account of Thomas Hardy's unrequited love during his autumnal years....a superfine, thistledown novel about a novelist, a place and about love and loss.... the book is written in a prose of such quality that one does not notice the quality - to describe it as craftsmanlike doesn't do it justice. It is a prose beyond accomplishment, yet which refuses to astonish, and which is utterly appropriate....'

Review by Michael Dirda in The Washington Post, 27th January 2016:
'the constant interlacing of past and present (and sometimes future), of mirrorings and repeated patterns, of multiple points of view on the same incidents, of anguished first-person monologue and serene, slightly antiquated formal discourse, of the real and the imagined - all these Nicholson uses to delineate the inner lives of his three major characters ....a book for grown-ups, one that finds the acme of human happiness in a young mother looking out at a starry winter's night, while she holds her baby in her arms...'

Review by Patricia Hagen in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, 2nd January 2016:
'this lovely, understated novel...Winter is quietly intelligent and compassionate, but what stands out most is that it is gorgeously, gorgeously written in prose so elegantly crafted that it becomes, paradoxically, almost invisible. It never shouts, never startles, just moves lithely along with an almost miraculous sense of rightness.'

Review by Thomas Mallon in The New York Times, 29th January 2016:
'Gertrude Bugler died in 1992 at the age of 95, a last significant link to the long-gone childless Hardys. Michael Millgate, another Hardy biographer, insists "the beauty that had so distracted Hardy when he was in his 70s and 80s" never deserted Gertrude, "even in extreme old age." She left students of the great man with an enduring little mystery and has now provided the 59-year-old Nicholson, who began publishing novels only a decade ago, with the raw material for a strong addition to his small, odd and distinguished oeuvre.'

Review by Roberta Silman in Arts Fuse [Boston], 20th January 2016:
'a luminous book, with setting and characters worthy of Hardy himself, about the mysteries of creation, about how to live a reasonable life while making art, about the sacrifices demanded of those who live with a serious artist, about the fragility of the work, itself. And while we watch this story unfold in this cold season in Dorset, we are imbued with a kind of wintry happiness that only a wonderful book found in this season can bring. A perfect antidote for the weather now descending upon Boston...'

Review by Allan Massie in 'The Scotsman', 27th January 2014:
'a very fine and intelligent novel...admirably true to the spirit of Hardy's work.... The novel is written partly from Hardy's point of view, partly from Florence's and partly (more briefly) from Gertie's. The Hardy passages are in the third person, though we are admitted to his thoughts and feelings. Florence's and Gertie's are first-person narratives. The combination and shifting of the points of view work very well. The Florence passages, and the picture that emerges of her, are especially good. As a portrait of a marriage, in which the affection between husband and wife is fraying on account of resentments based on incompatibility of sentiment and opinion, Nicholson's novel rings disquietingly true.'

Review by Jane Shilling in 'The Daily Telegraph', 8th February 2014:
'A gently elegiac tone permeates the novel, with its ravishing, appropriately Hardyesque sense of the intimate connection between landscape and emotion. It is winter in the hearts of two of his three protagonists and the dying fall of regret is everywhere, subverted only by Wessex, the Hardys' outrageous dog, which became their lone conduit of shared emotion. The conclusion is a touching celebration of life over art: the final vignette celebrates the sweet, domestic contentment that proved so tantalisingly elusive for Hardy's characters - and for their creator.'

from 'The Sunday Times', 16th February 2014:
'Devotees of Thomas Hardy should find much to treasure...Nicholson emulates Hardy's style with remarkable acuity, moving between the voice of Florence, Gertrude and Hardy by chapters while interspersing his narrative with playful allusions to, and retellings of, Hardy's life and works, all of which amounts to a wonderfully insightful - and occasionally humorous - portrait of marital unhappiness and the dynamics of desire and longing.'

from David Lodge:
'He has identified a marvellous story for a novel and done exemplary justice to it. Keeping closely to the known facts about the triangular relationship between the elderly Thomas Hardy, his second wife Florence, and the beautiful young butcher's wife and amateur actress Gertrude, who seemed to Hardy a reincarnation of his tragic heroine Tess, Nicholson has used the resources of fiction to represent their emotional lives with intensity and depth. He has created a distinctive and expressive narrative voice for each of them, evoking compassion even for the neurotic and jealous Florence. The presentation of Hardy is particularly fine, subtly imitating the characteristic features of the great man's own prose style, and achieving a comparable eloquence in many descriptive passages. The rendering of place and season is as vivid as the characterisation. Winter is a wonderful novel, moving, gripping and illuminating. I enjoyed it enormously.

from Antony Fincham, Chairman, Thomas Hardy Society:
'No other writer has managed to get so clearly under Hardy's skin - the result is an inspiring book, which should be read by all those with even the slightest interest in Thomas Hardy, his life and works.'

from the French magazine 'Livres Hebdo':
'Sensibility is among the rarifying virtues one can expect from a writer. Wishing for the sound and the fury, stupid people confuse it with sentimentality. There's no sound and no fury in HIVER, Christopher Nicholson's third novel, yet the first to be translated into French... [Thomas Hardy's] distress, which could be his salvation, his redemption even, is described by Nicholson with an empathic accurateness, a grace that doesn't exclude humour or violence... Nothing Nicholson writes is false, in this rather well-known episode in Hardy's life, yet nothing is absolutely true: everything is transformed by this delicate sidestep which could be seen as a definition of the finest art, as it is also the less conspicuous.'

Local press:

from 'The Blackmore Vale Gazette', 24th January 2014:
'Christopher Nicholson's exquisite prose draws in ever closer to the mind of the man [Hardy], following its subtleties and depth and sparkle step for step. His depiction of Hardy thinking about his own funeral is a masterpiece.... His ability to evoke the spirit of Dorchester's most famous resident of 90 years ago makes 'Winter' an outstanding novel that will stand the test of time.'

from 'The Bournemouth Echo', 8th February 2014:
'Nicholson's atmospheric prose transports us back to Thomas Hardy's final years at Max Gate, Dorchester, and his growing intimacy with his last muse, Gertrude Bugler, while his sickly wife Florence, fearful of betrayal, watches the infatuation unfold. ... This enchanting novel weaves its magic around the historic facts. Remarkably, the last surviving member of the group of Hardy's players died at the age of 105 in the autumn of 2011. Norrie Woodhall, president of the New Hardy Players, who played Liza-Lu in 'Tess of the d'Urbervilles' was Gertrude Bugler's sister. ...It was their mother who is believed to have inspired the original novel published in 1891.'

from 'The Northern Echo', 27th January 2014:
'Nicholson's emotional acuity captures the reader's heart fast, and his delicate prose is Hardy-esque in pace, evocation, and quality. We feel for the elderly man whose creativity is sparked by a new and quiet passion. The anxious Florence suffers from having so voluntarily played the part of the Great Writer's Wife; answering his letters and tending his house, her sorrow is a eulogy for unfulfilled women of the period. The lovely Gertie lifts the book's wintery tone, and we half-wonder whether, after all, Thomas Hardy might end his days in love.'

Link Read the opening lines
Link Christopher Nicholson on the writing of 'Winter'