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11 January 2016

Book Review: Winter's Tale

Yes, the ill-conceived Colin Farrell
was also a book!
Well, I think I've finally found a book that I both enjoy and disagree with in roughly equal measure. Winter's Tale is beautiful, in a way, but it is also tedious and smug.

I assumed that my objections to the book would be limited to its religious and philosophical themes, which essentially boil down to "there is a grand architecture to the universe" and "everything happens for a reason"—views that appear (to me, at least) to be both false and problematic. The politics of the book are nebulously conservative, which (given the author's political convictions) is unsurprising, and as the tale wore on either this became more irksome or the narrative became sufficiently fragmented that I had trouble concentrating on anything else. We are, after all, talking about a book that was apparently described as "the first specifically capitalist fantasy".

Winter's Tale is evocative and lovely, but beyond that there isn't much that I find in it to recommend. Each character seems to exist either to prove a philosophical point or to avoid having a person-shaped hole in the narrative, and the characterizations are about as deep you'd find in the average political cartoon. As another reviewer pointed out, "these characters are only characters in the sense that they are people with names who conduct actions."

And, despite all that, I enjoyed it anyway. Oh well.

Final Score: ★ ★ ☆ ☆

It's important to expose ourselves to ideas that we disagree with. For an exploration of the political themes in Winter's Tale, I recommend this article from n+1:

It's one thing to understand Reaganism by reading an op-ed about the restoration of patriotism. It's another to understand Reaganism as a desire for a miraculous resurrection, mixed with adulation for the heroic dying Indian, and to apprehend some sense of how that desire and that adulation feel. Ditto for the conservative beliefs that the poor receive too much compassion and assistance, that New York intellectuals are cut off from the wider world, that people who are brave and skilled are more worthy of esteem than people who are neither. It's one thing to hear a pundit expound these views, another to experience Helprin's thunderous disdain, his contempt for stooges, expressed in eloquent terms. You can read Winter's Tale for a sense of how being a conservative feels.

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