Half the World in Winter

I really need to paint that bookshelf don’t I?

Maggie Joel
Allen & Unwin
Published October 2014
Thank you to the publisher for
providing this book for an honest
review. This did not influence my 
review in any way.

It is 1880s London, and the Jarmyn family are coming out of deep mourning for the youngest member of their household, nine-year-old Sofia, after a terrible accident. Each member of the family is struggling – head of the family Lucas, his wife Aurora, eldest son Bill at Oxford, newly eighteen year old Dinah, younger sons Gus and Jack who were left out of it all – and it seems only their housekeeper Mrs. Logan is able to keep them all together. Six months later, another nine-year-old girl has died and it’s on the railway that Lucas owns. Her father Thomas travels to London for explanation and justice and the future of the two families collides.

I have had a lot of trouble trying to write this review – it was one of those that I just couldn’t work out where to start because by the time I got to the end I had mixed feelings. I was really enjoying it for the most part – while the story was moving slow, the history was fascinating and you can tell this book has been meticulously researched. It was just so interesting that I didn’t mind the pace of the story development. Though the death of Sofia, and Alice too, were grisly and the detail of ‘how to mourn correctly’ was heavy and you can tell these people are full of grief and guilt, this book still managed to be infused with humour relief, particularly from the household staff who were fantastic characters.

I enjoyed the slow burn and the development of both the story of Thomas Brinklow and the Jarmyn family following the train accident, and the story surrounding Sofia’s death and how this affected the other members of the household – particularly Dinah, who has turned eighteen and become a woman and no one has realised. All of this is happening in the midst of the Boer War, with the Jarmyns’ cousin Roger off to serve the Queen and young Jack wishing he could do the same. These stories were all intricately woven and well executed but I was left unsatisfied with the ending. It made perfect sense but it still seemed to fall flat, I’m not really sure why. I was really enjoying the story but maybe the ending was too quiet, with not enough of a bang? But then the novel wasn’t a bang of a novel, if that makes sense, so maybe a bang of an ending wouldn’t have worked and I’d be just as unsatisfied? You can see why I’m a bit confused about how I feel!

I think I will settle on 3.5 stars, which is kind of safe. But the writing and the storytelling was brilliant and I did enjoy it and I do recommend it for that, I only wish I hadn’t been so iffy about the ending!



Overall rating? 3.5 stars


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