Novel set in Victorian Birmingham
After the Winter by Guadalupe Nettel, guest review by Isobel Blackthorn – Paris
31st July 2018
After The Winter by Guadalupe Nettel, a novel evocative of Cuba, Mexico. New York, but Paris stands out!
Set in Manhattan and in Ménilmontant, the 20tharrondissement of Paris, After The Winter is an introspective story of obsession and depression and love.
Claudio, an editor in a relationship with a woman fifteen years his senior, hails from Cuba, where disturbing events of his past have shaped his personality, causing him to seek absolute control over his environment. A lover of silence and solitude, Claudio is conflicted, at odds with himself and filled with self-justifications. His is not a sympathetic character.
Cynthia hails from Mexico, where she was abandoned by her mother. She receives a scholarship to study a Masters in Paris, where she struggles with loneliness and depression. Likeable and acutely observant of her surroundings, Cynthia has a fascination for cemeteries—she rents an apartment overlooking Père Lachaise cemetery—and through this perhaps morbid interest she befriends then falls in love with her neighbour, Tom.
Cynthia and Claudio represent two distinct responses to childhood trauma: control versus being out of control, scrubbed clean versus not bothering to wash for weeks. Two extremes, two people struggling to live their lives in as sane and balanced fashion as they are able.
Eventually, the two narratives intersect, satisfying the reader who expects that sort of resolution, but there is a more nuanced interplay at work in the narrative, as both protagonists confront their inner demons and, with varying degrees of success, find resolution.
After The Winter is moody, at times grim and heart-wrenchingly sad, yet Nettel lingers without overplay, long enough for the reader to reflect before moving the story along.
While evocative of Cuba, Mexico and New York, it is Paris that stands out in the narrative, with its polyglot culture, its distinctive character, its boulevards and above all, its cemeteries. After The Winter would make the perfect companion on a winter getaway, ideal for the literary traveller wishing to pay respects to the numerous luminaries buried there, or to the sensitive visitor aware of the sepulchral side to Paris.
Nettel has penned a work of literary fiction that caresses the psyche, a balm to soothe the soul even as it disturbs. Through her prose, Nettel communicates something ineffable, touching a space beyond the ordinary and every day and inviting the reader to reach out and touch it too. After The Winter is much more than entertaining, it offers profound satisfaction and a sort of rarefied exaltation all at once.
Isobel Blackthorn for the TripFiction Team
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