Kate Moses WIntering Reviewed by Serena Trowbridge

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Kate Moses


UK Hardback

ISBN: 0340818875

Pages: 344; Price: £14.99

Date Reviewed: 29th February 2004

Reviewed by: Serena Trowbridge © 2004



General Fiction


The premise of Moses' book, Wintering, is to re-examine the short life of Sylvia Plath through her own eyes. Moses takes the poems in Ariel, Plath's most famous collection, and uses them as the narrative thread of her novel. Not only that, but she uses them in the order in which Plath originally arranged them, before they were resequenced by editors after her death. Thus the assumption is that the poems relate specifically to incidents and emotions Plath experienced, which in many cases is probably true, but those who still believe in the "death of the author" school of lit-crit will be disturbed (or, more likely, not reading this book). The interpretation that Moses puts on the poems may not always be true, but as long as you take it all with a pinch of salt, it's a fascinating subjective (and fictional) review of the life of Sylvia Plath. The sequencing does mean that the book moves about in time quite a bit, but I was left with the feeling that time didn't really matter; one event becomes another and echoes and patterns appear. Especially since each chapter is prefaced with dates, it is easy to follow the developments in Plath's life and work; it's like a deceptively simple jigsaw puzzle that has more pieces every time you look at it.

The concept of tethering the poems to a concrete if emotional reality is difficult since they are perhaps best understood with an instinctive reaction, a gut feeling of recognition, rather than with ropes of reality tying them to each cryptic point. Nonetheless, the novel can be read on many levels and I chose to read it as an explanation of Plath's state of mind rather than explicitly of her poems, which are, after all, a product of the troubled creative mind. Having said that, the reading of this book is greatly enhanced with a copy of Ariel to hand for easy reference.

Moses' language echoes that of Plath's poems, with hints of Hughes' poems too, using their sounds and vocabulary evocatively to bring the characters to life. The tale is told in highly visual, colorful language, which recalls Ariel. Moses has a gift for describing people which seems to revive memories of the old photographs of Sylvia, Ted and Assia which were published in the papers - Sylvia's hair, Assia's mascaraed lashes, the plump rosy children and dark, hunched Ted, Sylvia's "dark marauder". It is this kind of details which makes this a highly literary novel as well as a fascinating read.

The ordinary, everyday life is celebrated here; the book concentrates on the last two years of Plath's life, after she and Ted Hughes had separated. Her life with her children, increasingly isolated from her friends following Ted's desertion, is examined, as are her work and her emotional state. Leaving aside the fact that Plath was famous in her own right, this novel provides an excellent fictional close-up of a marriage disintegrating, of the joys of motherhood, and of a life falling slowly and sadly apart. The story is not told in the first person, as one might expect, but with a God's eye view, stating feeling as fact, both unanswerable and unarguable.

The title Wintering is taken from one of the poems, a poem of claustrophobia and of a long winter spent waiting for the summer and the bees to return. In it Plath comments upon the sleeping earth beneath the snow, the frozen contrast of black and white, and implies the sadness of wintering alone and waiting for a time to be happy again. It was during a long winter such as this that Plath committed suicide, and the title is remarkably apposite.

I was left unsure whether this book really celebrated the uniqueness of the woman-poet-mother figure, or if perhaps it made her life seem too mundane, too ordinary - too much, in fact, like everyone else's. After all, if Plath was like everyone else, why are we interested? It's the fragile bubble of poetry and borderline madness that intrigues us, and sometimes a demystification of this doesn't provide the answers we want. Nonetheless, this novel is a satisfying and intriguing read.