Adam Scovell is a filmmaker and one can see that when reading How Pale the Winter has made Us. There’s a cinematic technique in the way certain scenes are described. I kept imagining long tracking shots, silences and symbols appearing frequently. How Pale.. also has a pretty complex plot that would translate well in a visual context.
While in Strasbourg visiting her partner, Isabelle finds out that her father has committed suicide. Rather than go back Isabelle then starts to uncover Strasbourg’s history, mainly through the figures of Gutenberg, Goethe and Jean Arp. As she delves deeper into their personal lives and their connections with Strasbourg, Isabelle discovers that in an odd way these people are connected to her father, thus she is uncovering the history of a city while exploring her father’s history and her personal history. On the surface we get the impression that Isabelle is procrastinating her family visit but in reality she’s going exploring it deeply.
Scovell likes to layer the plot, details such as Kugelhopf, statues and photographs can easily lead to more details/trivia and as this happens, the narrative expands but it’s all done in an uncomplicated way. Although there may seem to be deviations – a couple of pages are about the botanist Robert Keller – everything is linked intelligently and after the first few pages the reader is caught up in Isabelle’s search, whether it’s for a piece of glass that Gutenberg had or a the meaning of an online article Isabelle discovers. We know that they are connected and it is interesting to see how she manages to do it.
Although the prose is economical there is a lot going on, despite being based in reality, there’s a fantastical element with a fairy-king, which is also connected to Isabelle’s father’s suicide. To further add richness to the text there are a number of photographs within the book.
How Pale the Winter has Made Us is able to do two things. One is to make the reader think and the other is to have fun while figuring out how the book will progress. It’s not easy to pull it off but Scovell manages with aplomb.
Many thanks to Influx for providing a copy of How Pale the Winter has Made Us in exchange for an honest review.