I missed Heaven Ali’s Mary Hocking Reading Week, June 1-7.
Due to disorganized calendar-keeping. I galloped through Hocking’s short novel, The Very Dead of Winter, and am posting a week late.
I do like Hocking, and I read three of her novels in 2013, A Particular Place, Good Daughters, and An Irrelevant Woman. I wrote here::
Mary Hocking’s irresistible novels have been compared to Barbara Pym’s.
Is she like Barbara Pym? Well, no. I find her sharp, gracefully-written fiction more like the tart novels of Penelope Lively crossed with the family sagas of Elizabeth Jane Howard.
The Very Dead of Winter was a slow starter for me, and at first I thought, Oh dear, I can’t read this. Hang on: it gets better. I was very moved by the powerful ending.
In the very dead of winter, Florence and her daughter Anita arrive to spend Christmas in a cottage in the woods owned by Florence’s hippieish sister, Anita. (Some think she is a witch.) Florence’s husband Konrad is dying, and he is already installed in an upstairs room. Their son, Nicholas, a world traveler and explorer, has also arrived. There is a mystery about a wooden sculpture in Konrad’s room: soon it becomes clear that Konrad has a closer relationship to Sophia than anyone knew.
And so they are a tense family group.
Florence is flamboyant and insensitive. She can’t face it that Konrad is dying, and barely goes into his room. The care of Konrad falls between Sophia and Anita, who loved her father much more than she loves her mother.
Because of her flair for dramatics (she belongs to the drama club at home), Florence insists on giving a huge Christmas party in a blizzard. Despite Anita’s warnings about salmonella, she makes a huge batch of eggnog and poisons the neighbors A few escape, those she deemed worthy of whisky. Florence loudly tells people how much she hated Konrad’s paintings, their violence, and the loud colors. A handsome middle-aged neighbor, Thomas, asks her if Konrad wasn’t known for his colors? She is gobsmacked. Could Konrad have exhibited his paintings without her?
Restless Anita is deeply unhappy with her life. She is an educational psychologist with a handsome boyfriend who lectures on education. On his way to the cottage, he gets stuck in the blizzard, and leaving his car behind is run over by a sleigh. She isn’t surprised that a widow is taking very good care of him.
While she is pulling apart from her boyfriend, Nicholas is falling for one of Sophia’s neighbors, Frances, a beautiful young woman who takes care of Thomas and his grandson, Andrew. Thomas’s son committed suicide, and his wife Margery died. Frances feels obligated to stay.
Does this seem unnecessarily complicated?
It doesn’t become clear immediately why we need to know so many characters, but they are tied together by Sophia and Konrad.
This is not Hocking’s best book. Would I have gotten past the first tangled pages if I hadn’t read three other of her books? No. But it is very good, if you stick it out to the end.
Here are links to Heaven Ali’s four recent Mary Hocking Week blog entries. She has read much Hocking, and there are other entries about her as well.