I picked Winter Ghosts on an impulse. The title conjured up scary images in my mind and I do love a scary story. What I got, however, was something slightly different.
This is the story of a man, Freddie Watson, who is trying to come to terms with the death of his brother, declared missing in 1916, one day before the Battle of Somme. Freddie knows his brother was the favorite child in the family. As grief tears the family apart, it is clear that Freddie has to deal with the death of his brother by himself. Years later, after some time spent in sanatoriums following a nervous breakdown, Freddie started traveling around France in the hope that the cooler climate of the mountains will restore his frail nerves.
On one such day he gets caught up in a winter storm and comes close to losing his life. Dazed and bloodied, he makes his way to a nearby village where he is given help and a place to spend the night. That night the village celebrates “la fête de saint Étienne” and Freddie is invited to the party. The celebration, however, is stranger than he thought. The food, the people, the clothes, the atmosphere, everything makes Freddie feel as if he had stumbled back in time. At the party he meets a striking young woman, Fabrissa, and her story manages to shake Freddie from his lethargy. Determined to find out more about her, he asks the villagers but his inquiries are met with strange looks and not much more. Undeterred, Freddie continues to search for Fabrissa. What he finds is a way to face his grief and move on. He begins to understand that life is worth living, that loved ones die but are never forgotten, and in the end holding on to happy memories is all we have.
I liked the book for the easy pace, the stories within stories, and the bits of history it provided (I didn’t know much about the Cathars and their religion and this book made me want to find out more). The story however, became predictable after a point. Reading this book felt like taking a walk through a forest on a quiet afternoon: you can see the path winding up between the trees and you know the exercise will do you good, just like you know that the scariest thing you’re likely to encounter will be a squirrel or a rabbit. Despite the “ghost” element it wasn’t scary – there was a point where it seemed things could get more chilling but it passed quickly and the story went back to its even pace. An enjoyable quick read.
*Read in October 2011