If therapy is a talking cure, this beautiful book is a reading cure. Not that it sets out in a know-it-all way to enlighten. It is too internalised for that. It is a personal, original and wayward examination of the idea that, as humans, we have – and need to have – our fallow seasons, that we must learn to revel in days when the light is low ... This is a winter’s tale of hard-won celebration, but – in keeping with other memoirs – it begins with what we are braced to predict will be a catastrophe ... She researches the somewhere-elseness of winter – not as a journalist might, but more like a poet with an angled take on things, an instinctive sense of beauty, a helpless appreciation of comedy ... She seems always to have access to the perfect image...And she stirs our appetite for the quiet described. Her book has the quality of a meditation, a peaceful rebuff to life in fast-forward ... [May] has a gift for unleashing unexpected comedy, especially when her intentions are most earnest. Inconveniently given her subject, the sauna has a disastrous effect ... There is so much to treasure here – most of all, her fantastic descriptions of swimming in a winter sea ... I love the surprises of this book. Most of all, it is about the comforts of language. Reading is like slipping into a fur coat. May could protectively convince us of anything – the pleasures of cold weather, slow days, dusty libraries. They all start to seem like prizes and her sensual connoisseurship a joy.
In this honest and deeply sympathetic meditation on her own fall through a gap in the 'mesh of the everyday world,' Ms. May, a British novelist and essayist, proves that there is grace in letting go, stepping back and giving yourself time to repair in the dark ... she is generous enough to share her strategies for how to find respite in the dark and endure until a new spring arrives ... Ms. May is a clear-eyed observer and her language is steady, honest and accurate—capturing the sense, the beauty and the latent power of our resting landscapes, of lying fallow ... Her retreat and renewal is a personal experience, generously shared ... encourages us to accept our imperfections and trust in the world, with its cycles of hibernation and regeneration.
May writes beautifully of her own recent bout with a personal winter ... [May] has found a subject that speaks to our time ... refreshingly free of self-pitying navel-gazing and trite exhortations to buck up ... Also refreshing, May embraces the cold and dark in part by exploring the soothing powers of the natural world and the way other creatures and cultures deal with winter ... a contemplative, hopeful, consoling book.
... [a] lovely, melancholy memoir ... Her writing about the healing powers of the natural world is wonderful ... Wintering does us the great service of reminding us that we are not alone in feeling undone. And although May’s book doesn’t offer a neat, easy ending in which she miraculously feels better, she does offer hope, an antidote to her tendency to 'feel like a negative presence in the world.' She finds that hope in the ebb and flow of the seasons.
... alternates travel and research, and mind and body – and ranges widely ... The links between literal and metaphorical winter can feel contrived or clichéd at times, but May radiates the same sincerity and quiet self-knowledge that characterized her previous memoir ... Here, her smooth prose effortlessly unites the disparate topics ... The memoir eschews a tidy ending, reflecting life’s cyclical nature.
The book itself is an exercise of mindfulness, an immersion not in the linearity of a plot but in the practice of thinking, meandering through each month’s themes—slumber, hot water, cold water, light—to ponder what it means to be alive and how to make a life. As we go, we are breathlessly held in an in-between state, a limbo, a transition. We are always on the cusp: as we reach the end, it does not feel like an end at all, but rather a resurfacing into consciousness ... For those of us wintering now, isolated, far away from our packs, May is the voice that will accompany us as we live through the cold season. Wintering is a lesson, an unlearning, an exercise, but it is also an offering. For once you have wintered—and now we all have—it is our obligation to share what we have survived.
In her restrained yet exuberant memoir, Wintering, British writer Katherine May counters Smith as surely as one solstice tilts against the other, evoking an atavistic grace tied to home and hearth, a season of inventory. For May, hunkering down is just another way to roll up her sleeves and get to work ... the memoir unfolds as a series of monthly essays ... May's prose has a Rachel Cusk feel — poised, cool, restrained — and yet we sense the narrator jumping out of her skin, a subtle tension that propels us through a story laced with brutal self-honesty.
In this introspective, beautifully written mix of memoir and philosophy, May explores life’s hardest season and the lessons of acceptance. With a pandemic keeping us isolated in so many ways, May offers much-needed solace and comfort and a reminder that seasons eventually turn.