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A Fractured Winter

Book Review: ETAS Journal Volume 36 Number 1 Winter 2018

Alison Baillie

Williams and Whiting Publishing (2018)

Bloodhound Books (February 2019)

ISBN 978-1912582051

357 pages, paperback, also available as Kindle Edition (Amazon)

A Fractured Winter, the second novel by retired former ETAS President, Alison Baillie-Taylor, is an intriguing mystery. A missing girl, threatening notes, sinister strangers – the signal words on the back cover tell the potential reader to expect a crime novel. Yet, this contemporary novel is much more than just a page-turner. It is one that makes you want to find the solution to the mystery presented on the opening page as a threatening note appears in the letterbox of Olivia, the protagonist. 

As When echoes of the past come back to haunt you– the subtitle on the brilliant front cover depicting a snow-covered hamlet in the mountains seen through broken glass – suggests, one of the major underlying themes is the way the present lives of the protagonist and other characters are influenced by their past. 

Set alternately in Switzerland, Scotland, and Yorkshire, while at the same time in the past and the present, the cleverly devised plot takes the reader not only on a journey through the protagonist’s life, but also on a quest to find out who to trust.  Baillie gradually introduces various characters who repeatedly challenge the readers to revise their conception of each individual’s good or bad intentions. At the same time, Baillie’s compassionate depiction of the protagonist makes the reader identify with her plight and consider her options and her ensuing actions in the given circumstances. Readers may even start pondering the twists and turns of their own fates and their corresponding behaviours and actions. 

This suspense novel would be very suitable for discussion in readers’ groups, in conversation classes, as well as other lessons which encourage reading at home and where a fraction of class time is set aside for questions and comments. The easy flowing style makes it suitable for students from B1/B2 level upwards. 

Some ideas for how to use it could involve, for example, using the first sentence: 

Olivia watched as the children ran down the lane towards the village, their school bags bobbing on their backs.

It made some of my own students speculate and develop various ideas about genre, protagonist, and plot, and when I then provided them with the first page, they became curious to read it all. 

Furthermore, the fact that it is partly set in Switzerland makes it immediately relevant to Swiss students who will likely enjoy discovering how much ‘Swissness’ and what kind is to be discovered.  At the same time, the mystery part gives the reader a kind of ongoing multiple-choice task with options and clues continuously provided as the plot progresses. 

How about a language task such as focusing on the language used to gradually give the reader an image of the various characters? Or have students find the clue words that make the reader suspect one of the characters as the culprit or that rule them out respectively? The characters’ behaviours and actions in the given circumstances as well as various serious themes woven into the story also lend themselves to discussion. 

As I have experienced myself, reading A Fractured Winter a second time actually enhances the pleasure by raising the reader’s awareness of all the details that have gone into it.

In general, though in some sense this is an escapist novel or maybe rather because it is, the novel’s easy flowing style can help the reader – be they students or not – become more aware of how books are crafted and how much thought and work goes into them.

Read it and find out for yourself!

Elsbeth Mäder

English At Home