Don't get me wrong - Anne Michaels was a poet long before she was a novelist, and you can tell when you read her prose - each word is carefully chosen (maybe that's why it took her 13 years to write it!) and it is beautiful to read. But I guess that I like plot too much, and that is what this book is missing.
I guess it is a love story - love found, love lost, new love found, new love lost, initial love found again (I hope that I haven't spoiled the ending for anyone!). But I found the characters to be rather flat and unmemorable; the story was disjointed and hard to follow; and the book didn't flow well. I started reading this book back in June, but then set it aside maybe 1/3 of the way through, didn't miss it, but picked it up again to finish this week.
There are a couple of themes similar to Fugitive Pieces - World War 2 and the consequences to Europe and Canada; the artistic community in Toronto; intergenerational relationships. In fact, some of the passages in The Winter Vault could have been taken from Fugitive Pieces.
On reflection, if you approach this novel as a book-length poem rather than a novel, it would probably be easier to handle, but in my opinion, it doesn't work as a novel.
I heard yesterday that The Winter Vault was long-listed for this year's Giller Prize. I plan to repeat my Giller reading challenge this year - read all of the short-listed books to make sure that the jury chooses the right book! Fugitive Pieces made the short-list in 1996, but it was in a very good field - Alias Grace (Margaret Atwood) won, and the other books on the short-list were A Cure for Death by Lightning (Gail Anderson-Dargatz), Fall on Your Knees (Anne-Marie MacDonald) and The Englishman's Boy (Guy Vanderhaeghe). I've read (and enjoyed) all of those books, and even though I liked Fugitive Pieces, I would have chosen Fall on Your Knees for the prize. But I guess that is off-topic!
This book was read for the Canadian Book Challenge at The Book Mine Set.