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.
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.
... 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.