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The Dead of Winter

by Lisa Appignanesi

Set in Montreal immediately following the 1989 massacre of 14 women at Université de Montréal, Lisa Appignanesi’s fifth novel begins with the apparent suicide of a fictional stage actress named Madeleine Blais, and follows the efforts of her former lover, Pierre Rousseau, and her grandmother to prove that Madeleine was in fact murdered.

The Dead of Winter is a compelling read – complex in its exploration of motives without hinting at the final outcome. Indeed, Appignanesi creates a psychological novel more than a mystery in that what becomes important is not so much the crime committed but how those affected by Madeleine’s death recuperate from their loss.

The focal point of the story is Pierre’s journey through memory, his soul-searching and his need to discover the truth – for he had always loved Madeleine, but had failed to act on his feelings. He must face his own responsibility in the demise of their relationship – and perhaps in her death as well.

What is striking about Appignanesi’s novel is that she capably renders the voice of a man in the first person, credibly capturing this 39-year-old notary’s thoughts about his life and his relationships with women. As well, Pierre is a francophone, and although he is never explicit about his position on the separatist question, his manner of discussing the views of Abbé Lionel Groulx and Henri Bourassa, the fathers of nationalism, leave little doubt that his is a decidedly non-English perspective. For an English writer to carry this off with conviction is deserving of praise.

Appignanesi grew up in Montreal and studied at McGill before leaving to pursue a doctorate in London, England, where she now lives. Despite her distance from Montreal, she captures with remarkable clarity the unique character of Montreal. Landmarks, dividing lines between English and French territory, architecture, varied viewpoints and events, both political and otherwise – Appignanesi is unmistakably present in the Montreal landscape. And her story only gains dimension and power with this landscape as her backdrop.