Winter is here, and it’s one of the best times of the year for reading. It’s too cold to go outside and do anything and none of us want to leave our bed on the dark, frosty mornings. It may be a cliché to curl up with a book and a blanket while the rain pours and the wind howls outside, but the cliché exists for a reason – it’s just such an awesome thing to do! So rather than try to escape the winter blues or seek the sunshine, I’ve decided to compile a list of books that help to embrace the cold weather. These are the perfect reads to accompany you in bed on a cold morning, or to chill you to the bone even further!
This is certainly the case with my first selection, The Ice Twins by British author S.K Tremayne. Published in 2015, the first descriptive word that I can think of when describing this book is, simply, “chilling”. A strong sense of place is just one of the key traits that make this book such an amazing read. The book takes place one year following the death of one identical twin girl and her parents, Angus and Sarah Moorcraft, decide to move to a tiny Scottish island, Skye – an inheritance from Angus’ family. This is an attempt to regather their lives in their grief and attempt to find some kind of harmony as a family of three. But all is certainly not what it seems.
The couple’s lives take an unexpected turn for the worse when their surviving daughter, Kirstie, informs them that she is Lydia, the girl that they believe to have died the previous year. Still haunted by grief and by regret, Angus and Sarah at first put this down to the quirks of being a twin and the irreparable hole in their remaining daughter’s life. However, this certainty is challenged with the onset of a brutal Scottish winter, when Kirstie/Lydia becomes violent and disturbed both at school and at home. Little by little, secrets begin to reveal themselves and previously held illusions become shattered.
I truly meant that this book is chilling, and that is in both senses of the word. The beautiful descriptions of the island and the chill of an island winter without many basic necessities really adds to the already tense atmosphere of the Moorcraft family. The swirling tensions and question marks over what really happened on the fateful day of the young girl’s death all come to a head during a particularly violent storm, making it a perfectly gripping wintery thriller. Fans of Stephen King will enjoy this new venture into the psychology of twins and it will certainly keep readers guessing long after the last turn of the page.
My next selection is already being viewed as a modern classic, despite being on shelves for less than thirty years. Written by one of the finest writers of this generation, Donna Tartt, The Secret History is a masterpiece. A hefty read at over 600 pages, the beauty, sophistication and nuance of the language is enough to make it well worth the time investment. Reminiscent of the film Dead Poet’s Society, released prior to this book’s publication, it also deals with a brilliant professor and his brilliant but tortured students. We know right from the opening few pages of Tartt’s novel that something terrible has happened to one of the students, known to most as Bunny. We also know that what has happened to Bunny has most likely been at the hands of other students.
This essentially frames the rest of the narrative as we are lead through the doors of Hampden College, an elite institution, by our narrator, Richard Papen, as he reflects of the events that lead to the fate of Bunny and his classmates. Richard studies Ancient Greek at Hampden College, eventually being lead to Classics professor Julian Morrow and his small coterie of students who exist on a different plane to their surroundings. But it is when the group’s boundaries are changed and morality tested that this novel truly comes into its own as a classic.
It is the dynamic of the group which gives The Secret History its intrigue. There are mysterious fraternal twins, a linguistics genius, the jokester, the home keeper as well as Richard himself, certainly a vehicle for the plot’s drive as much as he may like to think otherwise. The tensions and questions around this group simmer for majority of the novel as there are many tenuous and dangerous links between them that could cause massive upheaval for all involved. The way in which all of these events play out over the year that is detailed in the book are suspenseful (in spite of readers knowing much of the information in advance), creepy and brilliant in spite of the dark content with which we are dealing.
Why I recommend this book as a winter read occurs at the crux of the novel, where things begin to come crashing down for the small group with which Richard has aligned himself. During a winter break, Bunny and another member of the group, Henry, spend time together in Rome, with Henry footing the bill for them both (which is flagged immediately as unusual, given that the pair are not described as the closest of friends). Meanwhile, Richard stays behind, living in an unheated warehouse through the coldest winter in a generation. He suffers severe pneumonia and hypothermia, and is rescued by Henry upon his return from Italy. It is following this winter break that tensions begin to unravel within the group and it is seminal to the plot. The cold winter is truly the best metaphor for the events and relationships of this book – destructive, threatening and yet darkly beautiful. It’s a brilliant read at any time of the year, but given its content, winter seems the perfect backdrop for a read such as this one.
My final choice is another classic, this time a well-established one that took my breath away with its brilliance. The gripping tale of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, published in 1938 and adapted to film by Alfred Hitchcock in 1940, remains just as thrilling and chilling a read as it did all those years ago. An homage to the power of suggestion, foreshadowing and deception, Rebecca is a masterpiece that is definitely in the top ten books I’ve ever read.
Our narrator is a discreet yet forgettable young woman who falls for and marries a wealthy widower, Maxim de Winter of Manderley Estate, Cornwall. When the new Mrs. de Winter accompanies Maxim to the estate is when things gradually begin to unravel for the couple, as the shadow of Maxim’s previous and late wife, the formidable Rebecca de Winter, haunts the estate, the couple, as well as the devoted and sinister housekeeper Mrs. Danvers. It is the character of Mrs. Danvers that is truly the most haunting memory for me and many other reads of this novel. She remains utterly devoted to the late mistress of the house, and attempts on many occasions to undermine, manipulate, embarrass and control the new Mrs. de Winter in her management of the estate. She even gets to the point where she nearly gets the young woman to attempt suicide; however she is interrupted at the crucial moment. What she is interrupted by, though, sets about a whole new sequence of plot twists and turns that readers simply could not predict and an ending that is at once iconic and destructive.
There have been comparisons drawn between this and the great Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre such is the brilliance of this novel. Although these comparisons are obvious, the book is outstanding and brilliant in its own right. The literary technique as well as the genuine nature of the mystery of Rebecca is genius. One of these such techniques is the Dickensian notion of having the character’s names echo their character traits. The surname of de Winter shows us a lot about the family with which we are dealing. Frosty, cold and yet can bring a source of comfort to many – hence the perfect choice to read this winter.
Rebecca is such an enigmatic force and driver of the plot of the book that she has given the novel its name; and yet, we never learn the name of our narrator, such is the influence that Rebecca has had upon the world of Manderley. Not to give consideration that Rebecca is never even alive during the course of this novel, she continues to impact upon the lives of all, whether or not this is for the better or for the worse, is left up to the reader to decide as the novel drives towards a shocking yet, inexplicably, inevitable ending.