(Hmmm… for some reason, this review never got posted! And it is one of my favorite books of the year!)
The stories in Simon Van Booy’s second collection, Love Begins in Winter, are about ordinary people and their versions of love. Van Booy, who was born in London and grew up in Wales and Oxford and has lived in Paris, Athens and New York, sets his stories around the world. While the locations are wide-ranging and the characters have diverse backgrounds, they also share a similar streak: there is such sadness in them, and often they are on the verge of giving up. Ultimately, however, these are hopeful stories with a breathtaking, musical quality to them that they makes them hard to forget.
The first (and title) story brings together a man who collects stones and a woman who collects acorns. Both have been dealing with their own private grief for many years: “For ten years as professional cellist I have been raising the dead in concert halls across the world.” They meet in Beverly Hills and somehow, instinctively, know each other intimately.
“The Missing Statues” is about the kindness of strangers. An American diplomat notices a missing statue in St. Peter’s Square and sobs as a passing priest comforts him. The void reminds him of a day when the kindness of a stranger – a gondolier, no less – made an awful day in Las Vegas better.
Walter, an Irish Gypsy, has a major crush on a Canadian orphan who has just moved to his town in “The Coming And Going Of Strangers.” He takes a basket of eggs to the house that she lives in, the very house that used to belong to the family of the girl whose life Walter’s father saved from the clutches of the sea many years ago. “The Coming And Going of Strangers” tells of love and friendship that can happen between strangers.
In “The City of Windy Trees,” George Franck, a man who has left his past behind and whose life “was nothing more than a light that would blink once in the history of the universe and then be forgotten,” is sent a photograph of a young girl – and his life stops. He doesn’t leave his apartment for a week, then sets off for Sweden to find his future. It is a truly sweet and hopeful story about second chances.
In a collection of stories, it is inevitable that not every story will work for everyone. For this reader, the second story, “Tiger, Tiger,” seems out of place with the rest of the collection. This story focuses on how the relationship between a young woman and her boyfriend is changed after the divorce of his parents. The move from “Love Begins in Winter” to “Tiger, Tiger” is rather jarring and could cause some readers to put away the book, but the remaining stories continue in a similar direction as the first: they cocoon the reader in these exquisite worlds from which it takes immense willpower to leave. Love Begins in Winter, which won the 2009 Frank O’Connor award, is an exceptional read which will capture a reader’s heart.