I’ve mentioned before that Mark Helprin’s “Winter’s Tale” is my favorite novel of all time (and also the best novel I’ve ever read). Every year, once the weather starts getting cold and the days shorter, I reread it, and it’s about that time.
This year, I want to share my love/obsession with the world (or at least the regular visitors of this blog). I’m going to read two chapters a week, and post my thoughts and feelings about them. And I’m encouraging any and all of my visitors to join me, both in reading the book, and in discussing it.
I’ll kick things off right here, talking about the very brief prologue. Even before that, Helprin starts us off with a quote that sets the tone for all that’s to follow:
“I have been to another world, and come back. Listen to me.”
That sentiment could apply to many of the characters in the story about to unfold, and it prepares us to jump across both worlds and eras (and different times ARE other worlds; as the famous quote has it, “the past is another country.”).
The prologue showcases Helprin’s gift of prose; it’s gorgeous from the very first word. As he opens things:
A great city is nothing more than a portrait of itself, and yet when all is said and done, its arsenals of scenes and images are part of a deeply moving plan.
He goes on to talk about New York City specifically, where our story is set, and, really, the book is one long love letter to the greatest city in the world. We’re told about the mass of white clouds that surround the city, about which we’ll learn much more as the novel progresses. We also get our first reference to the the city as one great machine, about which, again, much more later.
And then we are told:
…our swift unobserved descent will bring us to life that is blooming in the quiet of another time.
This is important, as we’ll see very shortly in chapter one. The prologue ends with an invitation:
As we float down in utter silence, into a frame again unfreezing we are confronted by a tableau of winter colors. These are very strong, and they call us in.
Colors, both wintry and otherwise, play a large role not only symbolically, but very literally in the story, as we’ll discover early on.
So the stage is set. We’re about to embark on a journey that will span worlds and centuries. I hope you’ll come along with me; our first steps will be onto the snow-covered streets of pre-World War I Manhattan, which is where chapter one begins…
I’ll keep an updated list of links to the individual chapter discussions here, so it’ll all be easy to find…by