Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Winter Vault

This book is filled with engrossing facts about geography, history, engineering and music. The author said it was a privilege to be able to feed her interests as she researched her novels.  Facts were quick to uncover, but "the meaning that lies within the facts takes much longer to reveal".
Perhaps we painted on our own skin, with ochre and charcoal, long before we painted on stone.  In any case, forty thousand years ago, we left painted handprints on the cave walls of Lascaux, Ardennes, Chauvet.
     The black pigment used to paint the animals at Lascaux was made of manganese dioxide and ground quartz; and almost half the mixture was calcium phosphate.  Calcium phosphate is produced by heating bone four hundred degrees Celsius, then grinding it.
     We made our paints from the bones of the animals we painted.
     No image forgets this origin.
from The Winter Vault, by Anne Michaels 
Rushing through this book would be like speed-reading haiku.  You can do it, but it defeats the purpose.  Better to read this one slowly.  The author was published as a poet before she was a novelist, so there is deep love of language, metaphor, and pattern.

In this last lecture of the Wednesday night series at the Heliconian Club, the author was interviewed on stage by Suanne Kelman, an Associate Chair at Ryerson. Kelman told Michaels she felt the book was "dark" and filled with "despair".  Although the writer admitted darkness was a strong element in the story, she said, "Regret, shame, grief... these things are not the end of the story".  In fact, she hoped the reader would come away from the book with the realization that "everything made with love is alive", and feel empowerment and hope.

I found it interesting to hear her speak about trying to balance her life as a mother and as a writer without compromise.  She did this by writing each day between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m.  Maybe this is why there is such a dream-like quality to her work.

Lisa Ray interviews Anne Michaels about the Winter Vault after it was nominated for the Giller Prize:

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