Critics’ Picks review - Wintering
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Krissy Kneen is a versatile and prolific writer whose work includes fiction, erotica, poetry and memoir. Her latest novel Wintering is ambitious, a strange and unsettling work which leaves key questions unanswered and plenty of room for your imagination.
Set in a remote area of Tasmania, where the wild and unforgiving landscape becomes a character in itself, Wintering centres on Jessica, a scientist. She is just finishing her PhD on glow worms and works as a tour guide at the cave complex in which her glow worms prosper. She lives with her partner Matthew in a close relationship, to the exclusion of other friends and casual acquaintances. Jessica relishes her work in the pristine natural environment, often fishing alone and exploring caves. What starts as realism gradually moves into a suspenseful thriller with an edge of the supernatural when Matthew disappears one night, and police find his abandoned car near thick forest.
Despite Jessica’s scientific mind, she is drawn into a world in which reality and myth start to blur. On Matthew’s phone she finds a snippet of video that seems to depict a striped tiger-like animal. Soon she finds herself in the company of a strange group of women who all report sightings of an animal like the Tasmanian tiger at the time their partners also disappeared inexplicably. In her isolation Jessica vacillates between rationality, fear, and her realisation of how little she knows about Matthew’s life outside their relationship. Others in the small secluded community seem to know him well, and hint at troubling aspects of his character.
Jessica also meets Matthew’s friend Will, a huge, gentle man who checks in on Jessica and soon becomes her only close friend. Gradually we notice a sinister undercurrent of male dominance and barely suppressed violence – in Matthew’s father and brother, flashbacks to Jessica’s stepfather when she and her mother lived in a cult-like religious community, and in Matthew himself: twisting her arm, controlling her leisure activities, and once throwing her laptop with its complete thesis towards the ocean. Lonely and confused, Jessica initially relies on her scientific background, but starts to doubt herself as she joins the women with their guns in a nighttime hunting party. She is haunted by suspicious sounds outside her small shack, and a sharp, unpleasant animal smell.
The narrative speeds along with unexpected and shocking events that at times ask readers to suspend their disbelief. Some literal readers may find this leap frustrating, but I went with the flow, pulled along by the strength of Kneen’s deft and compelling writing.
Reviewer: Jane Gibian, Librarian, Information and Access
"What Kneen manages to do, as does Atwood, or even Murakami, is make her narrative worlds, wherever they lead, seamless and seductive. Both playful and structurally sound, Wintering remains tense and taut throughout, with a strong sense of place, cool engagement and the ghostly traces of environmental and personal degradation." - Saturday Paper
"A triumph…One of Kneen’s greatest strengths is her ability to write with humour, pathos, sadness, joyousness and candour in equal measure…Wintering is a fine addition to an already impressive body of work." - Sydney Morning Herald
"[A] taut new novel…Wintering uses [a] closed community to examine some disturbing aspects of Australian culture: parochialism, machismo, an unwillingness to face up to the past…Kneen also finds room for strength and kindness in this sleek and gripping novel." - Australian [paywall]
About the author
Krissy Kneen is the award-winning author of memoir—Affection—and fiction: An Uncertain Grace, Steeplechase, Triptych, The Adventures of Holly White and the Incredible Sex Machine, as well as the Thomas Shapcott Award-winning poetry collection Eating My Grandmother.
She has written and directed broadcast documentaries for SBS and ABC Television.