Posted by: Corri van de Stege | December 15, 2008

A Book Review – Winterwood, by Patrick McCabe

I had not read anything by Patrick McCabe, prior to reading this book, Winterwood.  This is a recent one, published in 2006, and it is a brilliant story.  It’s about Redmond Hatch, an Irishman from Slievenageeha in the mountains.  His childhood slowly unfolds as in his own idiosyncratic and threatening way he tries to come to terms with his failed marriage, the infidelity of what he imagined was a perfect wife, twenty years younger, the loss of his daughter when he cannot have access without the consent of his ex-wife.  He becomes haunted by his past and at times it is difficult as a reader to disentangle reality from imagination gone wild, just as it is difficult for Redmond to do just that. 

McCabe has a knack of writing in such a way that you as the reader feel that you are in the head of the protagonist, you become the protagonist, understand why he acts the way he does, in the same way that Redmond begins to ‘understand’ why Ned Strange, a paedophile, did what he did.  Ned Strange tells tales, he is strange, but he also is part of Redmond’s murky past, of his disturbing childhood, in fact he was one of the the causes. 

Winterwood is the imaginary safe place, where Redmond takes his daughter in the stories he tells her, it is the magic place where she is safe from ‘scarythings’ and when bad things are happening all around Redmond and in his head, this is where he takes her. 

When he contemplates his failed marriage Redmond relates how  he and Immy, his daughter,  ‘discovered’ winterwood:

I sat in Queen’s Park the best part of a day.  You never know how special ordinariness is until you wake up one day and it’s gone.  Queen’s Park was where me and Immy had intented winterwood.  I remember that day so vividly.  We’d been having breakfast that morning and unexpectedly ‘The Snowman’ came on.  We continued eating our cornflakes, the pair of us mesmerised as we watched him walk on air, oblivious of all the little houses below.

-He lives in it, doesn’t he?  I remembered her saying.  That’s where he lives, in winterwood, Daddy.

-Oh, yes – perhaps he does!  I said, not thinking.

– Of course he does, you silly man! she chided me.  Him and the Snow Princess!

What at first was about recollecting the stories of the mountain he grew up in, as part of an assignment from the paper he writes  for, as the years pass Redmond becomes as one with Ned and his ‘stories’.  Ned takes ove rhis mind.

This is a haunting gothic tale and half the time you are not quite sure what is real and what is imaginary, but that is due to Redmond’s state of mind.  His descent into abysmal and disturbing madness fuses with the belief that once the family is reunited in winterwood everything will be fine again.  At the same time his haunting, dysfunctional childhood where Ned is master and king story teller, leads almost inevitably into the ultimate horror, once he has in his mind become inextricably entwined Ned.

I read this book in two days, whilst on the train and one late night and could not put it down.  It is not surprising McCabe is the winner of the Irish Novel of the Year Award 2007. 

Have you read any of his other books?   McCabe was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1998 with Breakfast on Pluto and I might just try and get hold of a copy.  He is a great story teller who knows how to write.  If you are looking for a stocking filler for someone who loves a good and well-written story, then this is  your book.






  1. You’ve completely sold me. I just added WINTERWOOD to my Amazon wish list 🙂

  2. Lisa: good, you wont regret it…..

  3. I am two books short of the Booker Prize challenge. Given that your review on his latest is stellar, I’ll track down a copy of Breakfast on Pluto so I won’t have to bow out of the reading challenge.

  4. There are people in my household who actually make Christmas lists – yes, lists! and they are posted on one of the kitchen doors. So, I think a little booklist is in order so excuse me while I go jot some things down and add McCabe…for my stocking!!!

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