[Review] Girl's winter quest provides heart-rendingly cold delights

By John Millen
By John Millen |

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Winter Damage
By Natasha Carthew
Published by Bloomsbury
ISBN 978-1408835838

Natasha Carthew's heart-rending debut novel, Winter Damage, is set a few years in the future, but there is nothing dystopian about her story. Her world is still our world, although civilisation is slowly breaking down in a bitterly cold, climate-changed environment in which ordinary people are struggling to survive.

Fourteen-year-old Ennor lives in a dilapidated trailer near a farm in the middle of nowhere. Her father is seriously ill, her autistic brother needs to be looked after day and night, and the family has no money. Ennor's mother walked out years before, just as things were beginning to deteriorate, so Ennor took charge of the family.

Now, with the authorities ready to take her brother into care, Ennor devises a plan to save her loved ones. A few days before Christmas, she packs a blanket, a map, a saucepan and a gun into her rucksack, leaves her brother with a friend, says nothing to her father, and walks out into the snowdrifts.

There is nothing else that she can do; she is going to search for her mother and bring her back to the family she deserted.

Ennor still remembers where her mother went, and also knows there are people living on the frozen moor who will help to find her.

But the elements are against Ennor from the moment she leaves the home. Winter has never been as cold as this; within hours, she has fallen and injured her ankle, lost her map and become lost in a violent snowstorm.

Yet somewhere deep inside her, there is something that keeps driving her on into the white landscape - firing her desperation to succeed. On the surface, the novel's story might seem rather miserable and full of hopelessness. But this is elegantly lyrical novel is packed with optimism.

Even at its coldest moment, Carthew's book is truly beautiful - with a small but believable cast of characters and a brilliant sense of setting.

The icy landscape that defines the novel is wonderfully described on every page. Even on the hottest day of the year, readers will feel the chill of the author's elegant prose.

Although this is Carthew's first novel, she has already published three volumes of poetry. And she certainly uses that talent for poetry well here; her writing is outstanding, and with this single novel she has established herself as an exciting new writer for teenage readers. Definitely one to watch.

John Millen can be contacted on [email protected]