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December 03, 2006

Wintering by Kate Moses

Here it is; My first review for my From the Stacks Challenge....

Hands up who didn't have an obsession with Sylvia Plath when they were young. Go on, admit it every female teenager has at least once stomped their heavy Doc Martens out of the front door, as they mutter, not too loudly lest the allowance be stopped,

Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I'm through.

Some of us left her right there along with the black eyeliner and skirts too short. Others of us came back to her later and realised that 'Daddy' wasn't really about being told that you'd got to be home by 10.30, it was about .... it was about .... well who knows. Later we would discover that Plath wrote other stuff besides 'Daddy' (yeah, you wouldn't know) most of it even better. If you fall into the first category, start again with 'Poppies in July' - oh and welcome home.

I stumbled across Wintering; A Novel of Sylvia Plath by Kate Moses over at Bookrelay.com and couldn't stop myself from claiming it. You see after reading Agatha by Kathleen Tynan I've been intrigued by the biographical novel genre. A feat of creative imagination, a lyrical homage to the subject; or a lazy way of cashing in on the biography market whilst skipping the pesky task of research. I couldn't decide.

Moses tackles Plath's state of mind in the last few months of her life, as she struggles to cope with the aftermath of her marriage breakdown in the build up to Christmas. Strangely the result is not as morbid as you might think. What comes across is Plath's strong will to survive, the pleasure taken in the tiny details of life and above all her unrelenting love for her children. Moses' description of the babies right down to the scent is so evocative that it does not surprise me to discover that she has young children of her own and is one of the founders over at Mothers Who Think.

For the basis of her novel, Moses takes the poems written in 1962 and works from there; anyone with even a superficial knowledge of Plath's work will see the evidence. Each chapter takes a poem as it's title ('The Moon and the Yew Tree' 'Nick and the Candlestick') and of course there is also the title of the novel itself.

Winter is for women -

The woman, still at her knitting,

At the cradle of Spanish walnut,

Her body a bulb in the cold and too dumb to think
('Wintering', Sylvia Plath)

In addition Moses lingers on events and images contained within the poems themselves; an early morning ride on Ariel the horse, an attempt at beekeeping the previous summer.

It sounds like a cliché but I couldn't put this book down. It wasn't that I wanted to find out what happened next (heaven knows we already know) but the rhythmic pull of the lyrical prose left me unwilling to break the momentum.

And finally I'd like to congratulate Kate Moses for not leaping on the Let's-All-Blame-Ted-Hughes bandwagon. So much of the literature, biographical or otherwise, that surrounds their marriage, feels too much like propaganda, like I'm being forced to take sides. In Moses' work Hughes comes across as equally moved and bewildered by the whole event.

All in all, this deeply poignant and touching work was a pleasant surprise.

Posted by mandy at December 3, 2006 04:48 AM

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