The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon

The Winter PeopleThe Winter People by Jennifer McMahon

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Nineteen-year-old Ruthie finds herself lost when her mother disappears without a trace. Now responsible for her sister’s care, Ruthie struggles to be the grown-up, especially when the discovery of Sara Harrison Shea’s diary opens up a world of the dead coming back to life. Unable to stop the secrets from coming to light, Ruthie’s determination to find her mother leads her to dangerous places.

(WARNING: This review contains minor spoilers.)


May comes to a close, and so concludes the Ladies of Horror Fiction community readalong. I was completely captivated by The Winter People when I first began reading; its overall setting proved tremendously atmospheric. The season of winter has always had that extra special effect on my mood, possibly due to its unforgiving nature, and as a result I felt an abundance of creeping dread at all the unanswered questions that McMahon didn’t hesitate to tease. Possibly the best thing about it was the speculation and subsequent discussions surrounding it – my imagination did somersaults, coming up with theories I was sure held some accuracy. The shifting point-of-view and jumping back and forth in time simply continued to pique my interest; I couldn’t wait to learn more of the unfolding story. I would say it was the definition of a good start, therefore it’s just a real shame that my level of enjoyment declined somewhat as the plot continued to develop.

There were instances I had difficulty in suspending my disbelief as certain decisions the characters made struck me as completely nonsensical. For me to fully connect to the personalities on a page, I need to find logic in their actions. Without that, then my mind typically brands them as two-dimensional and it’s almost impossible to connect. This occurred more than once, and each time with a progressively weaker justification – such as dismissing the use of modern technology because… well, there wasn’t really an excuse given for that absurdity. I daresay plot devices don’t need to be so contrived.

If I move past what didn’t work for me, there was still plenty to like. The novel explored the subject of loss, and the turmoil that accompanies it. I really appreciated the emotional depth which took precedence; the bleak prospect of never again seeing your loved one speaking to human selfishness. These elements of realism were in stark contrast to my aforementioned complaints. Sara’s segments, especially, were extremely compelling and rife with heartbreak. The concept of the Devil’s Hand was also one I favoured. A mysterious, supposedly natural-forming structure at the epicentre of strange paranormal activity. There was obvious history there that was just out of reach, and I think I’ll be contemplating over it for a while to come.

In conclusion: Sometimes a book has such a promising start, and then gradually falls down a few rungs of the metaphorical ladder. The Winter People was a five-star read until a few select characters dumbfounded me with their questionable choices. Whilst these bouts of poor characterisation rubbed me the wrong way, as a whole, I enjoyed the read for the most part. I’d have no hesitation in recommending it to those that relish the quiet side of horror.

Notable Quote:

I killed myself again and again in my dreams.
I’d wake up weeping, full of sorrow to find myself alive, trapped in my wretched body, in my wretched life. Alone…

© Red Lace 2019

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