When the unknown Canadian Anne Michaels published her first novel in 1996, word of the book’s greatness spread like a bushfire. Reviewers were unanimous in their praise, prizes were bestowed, multiple copies bought and given to cherished friends. A novel about the Holocaust, it was also a meditation on love, loss, nationhood and memory. Michaels was compared to Michael Ondaatje and John Berger. The book sold more than a quarter of a million copies.
Following a tremendously successful first book is notoriously difficult. In this case, the bar has been set impossibly high, because Fugitive Pieces is one of the most remarkable works of fiction to have appeared in the past three decades. Joseph Heller had a stock answer for when interviewers asked him whether he minded not having written anything as successful as Catch-22: No, because no one else has, either.
Those who have waited with bated breath for Anne Michaels to publish another novel may sigh now, with relief. The Winter Vaults is beautifully written, deeply considered, and ambitious in its historical, geographical and moral scope. The important thing to remember when reading Michaels is that she is