WINTERING: A Novel of Sylvia Plath
HThis exceptional first novel, shot through with a fierce poetic luminosity that almost matches that of Moses's much-written-about subject, covers the last few months of the poet's life as she cares for her sick children in the middle of a brutal London winter, struggling to write her last poems and recover from the defection of husband Ted Hughes. Moses is frank, in a long afterword, about her sources—which include Plath's letters and journals—and about what she has made up or merely surmised. But the key question is whether the book succeeds as a compelling piece of fiction, and the answer is that it does, triumphantly. Moses moves deftly back and forth in time, from the couple's last months in their beloved but moldering Devonshire hideaway through Plath's first suspicions of Hughes's infidelities to her arrival in London. Moses catches the quality of English life, particularly its austere inconveniences and its moody weather, with remarkable fluency, and her habitation of Plath's body and mind feels complete. At the same time, she offers scenes that show how awkward and bloody minded the poet could sometimes be. It is not a sentimental book, but rather one that evokes Plath's fierce joy in words and images and her huge motherly courage in the face of crippling adversity, with lacerating episodes like the one in which she makes a desperate call from a phone box in the rain while her children peer in at her uncomprehendingly. In the end one wonders not how Plath came to kill herself but how she survived so long. This beautifully written novel may offend literary purists, but most readers will find it moving almost beyond words. (Feb. 11)
Forecast:Because of its ever-fascinating subject, expect plenty of review attention. Plath remains a deeply evocative figure as well as a feminist icon, and the book can certainly be hand-sold to reading groups. Moses is also the editor of a nonfiction book on motherhood, Mothers Who Think.