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Love Begins in Winter

Simon Van Booy

"The contents of the glass had dried into the carpet and looked like a map of Italy. We sat in silence; a forced intimacy, like three strangers sheltering under a doorway in pouring rain."

Reviewed by Nuala Ní Chonchúir

I love a beautiful looking book – I warm towards a work if I enjoy its physicality. Never judge a book by its cover? I almost always do. And so I was delighted when Simon Van Booy's collection Love Begins in Winter fell into my letterbox and turned out to be a thing of beauty. It has a romantic blue sepia cover image of trees and lovers; simple title lettering; French flaps; and pages with jagged edges. Its old-fashioned yet contemporary prettiness made me feel positive towards the collection because it looked and felt lovely – like a book I'd be happy to spend time with. And so I was: the writing did not disappoint.

In Frank O'Connor's study of short fiction he proposed:

"There is in the short story at its most characteristic, something we do not often find in the novel – an intense awareness of human loneliness."

Simon Van Booy’s characters most definitely have the lonely voices of Frank O'Connor’s "submerged populations" these are people trapped in their own thoughts about the past as they try to make sense of the here and now. They often far prefer their own company to that of others, and as O'Connor also said, they "wander about the fringes of society", never quite fitting in.

In the story The Missing Statues, for example, we find a tale about the incongruity of Las Vegas which is peopled with loners: a poor child, his lone-parent mother, each of her lousy boyfriends, a verbose gondolier and a priest. These characters operate in singular, individualistic ways while forming an ensemble that carries the theme of the story – the realisation of love – forward.

There is a patchwork quality to the title story Love Begins in Winter – it is not seamless. It stitches together Bruno’s lonely thoughts on his life and regrets; Hannah’s parallel story of loss; and various philosophical musings. But, like any good patchwork, all these parts fit together pleasingly.

A less successful segmented story is the one set in Ireland The Coming and Going of Strangers which concerns Walter the Romany gypsy. It's a sweet story of young love but elements of its Irish-ness didn't ring true; the main character's gypsy-ness mainly, but some of the word choices also jarred: "crib" where an Irish person would say "cot", for example.

Van Booy is a master of the atmospheric scene written in lyrical prose. He mentions colour a lot – his descriptions have a sort of filmic simplicity, and the simple language used makes for cinematic, seeable scenes. A paragraph from The City of Windy Trees will illustrate this:

"Then he opened it and found a page of blue handwriting and a photograph of a little girl with brown hair. The girl was wearing a navy polyester dress dotted with small red hearts. She also had a pink clip in her hair." 

The stories in this collection are rich in interesting detail – the young doctor who bites her lover; the boy who gets stuck in a tree and dies – and they are obsessed with how childhood events influence adult life-decisions. Simon Van Booy writes with charm and style; the prose is spare and the sentences are often short which gives a staccato-like feel to the narrative at times. It may be a stretch but, sometimes, because of the unadorned, elegant prose, it feels like reading a good translation from a European language.

In the story The Missing Statues the priest character says:

"…I like stories very much…they help me to understand myself better."

Clearly we are in the presence of a writer who also likes stories very much and, as a bonus, he tells them exceedingly well.

Read the title story from this collection at Harper Collins

 Nuala Ní Chonchúir lives in Galway, Ireland. Her third short fiction collection, Nude, was published in September 2009 by Salt Modern Fiction and launched at the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Festival in Cork, Ireland, on the 18th of that month. Her poetry pamphlet Portrait of the Artist with a Red Car will be published by Templar Poetry in October 2009. She blogs at http://womenrulewriter.blogspot.com/.

Nuala's other Short Reviews: Sarah Salway "Leading the Dance"   

Patrick Chapman "The Wow Signal"

Kuzhali Manickavel "Insects are Just Like You and Me Except Some of Them Have Wings"

Moira Crone "What Gets Into Us"

Michael J. Farrell "Life in the Universe"

Publisher: Harper Collins

Publication Date: 2009

Paperback/Hardback? Paperback

First collection?No

Awards: Winner, 2009 Frank O'Connor International Short Story Prize

Author bio: Simon Van Booy was born in London and grew up in rural Wales and Oxford. In 2002 he was awarded an MFA and won the H.R. Hays Poetry Prize. His journalism has appeared in magazines and newspapers including the New York Times and the New York Post. Van Booy is the author of The Secret Lives of People in Love. He lives in New York City, where he teaches part-time at the School of Visual Arts and at Long Island University

Read an interview with Simon Van Booy

Buy this book (used or new) from:

The Publisher's Website: HarperCollins


Author's Recommended Bookseller: McNally Jackson, New York


Book Depository



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