Perhaps, I’d feel differently if I’d read the book instead of listened to the audiobook, but Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin is a novel that’s overly dense, without being especially weighty. For the first half / twelve hours of the novel, I found it enjoyable. Helprin writes with a style that takes pleasure in metaphor and seeks them out in every description. To use a metaphor though, Helprin’s writing is a bit like a Victorian house, it’s ornate to the point of distraction. What started out as fun became tiresome. Not every description needs to be exaggerated. What does that level of description do? Is Helprin creating a more magical landscape or does he not know when to stop? Whichever the case may be, it created a narrative that lumbers forward. Action and pace slow, caught up in the Candyland-like quagmire of imagery, somewhere between Molasses Swamp and Lake of the Coheeries.
What’s necessary for a novel? If a scene doesn’t move the plot forward or show a character grow in someway, why have it? The section of the novel with Hardesty Marratta meeting the mountaneering midget Jesse Honey was the point where I almost stopped. It’s ridiculous to the point of being stupid. Beyond that criticism though, what did it add to the novel? It showed how Hardesty reacted when paired with an overly confident buffoon, but is that important?
Again, if you’re reading the novel, you can just skim this section; however, audiobook listeners are in no such position. Furthermore, after twenty-eight hours listening to Oliver Wyman read / perform the text I developed a strong dislike for his voice. Would I feel differently if I’d read the book? Probably.
The fantasy and dense descriptions will either grab a reader or turn them away. With interesting characters and a uniquely imagined New York, it’s worth checking out, but if you find yourself lost in the Peppermint Forest with Peter Lake, don’t beat yourself up over it.
After finishing this review, I came across a review worth sharing “Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale is a Failure that Genre Fans Must Experience” on Tor Books.
If you read the novel, how did you respond to it and what do you normally read?