The Winter Vault by Anne Michaels
We have imprisoned space between what we have built: waste space too narrow for anything but litter, dark walkways from carparks to the street; the endless, dead space of underground garages; the corridors between skyscrapers; the space surrounding industrial rubbish bins and ventilator shafts … the built world has created a despair of space, like seeds of futility, small pockets on the earth where no one is meant to be alive.
This Giller Prize finalist is afloat in beautiful prose, unfortunately it’s afloat in the doldrums. The sentences lap against my ears, muffled through the water, lulling me to sleep as the plot calmly waits for a wind that never comes.
Egypt, 1964. The great temple at Abu Simbel must be rescued from the rising waters of the Aswan Dam. Block by block, it is to be dismantled and resurrected on higher round. This massive project is overseen by Avery Escher, a young engineer who has recently arrived in Egypt from Canada with his wife, Jean. But not everything can be saved once the floodgates have opened. Villages will be deluged, graves will be moved. Thousands will be exiled from their ancient homes.
By night, as they settled into their houseboat on the Nile, jean and Avery drift back to the past – Avery to his childhood in England, during the war; Jean to her younger days, traveling the shores of the St. Lawrence with her schoolteacher father, both of them grappling with the recent death of Jean’s mother. It was along this same river, years later, that Jean and Avery first met, during the building of the great Seaway, when another world was about to be lost in the name of progress.