The Winter Ghosts
Kate Mosse
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Buy *The Winter Ghosts* by Kate Mosse online

The Winter Ghosts
Kate Mosse
336 pages
February 2012
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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Deeply evocative of time and place, Mosse’s elegant tale moves from the 13th century and the time of Cathari to the misty woods of southern France in 1928. The Winter Ghosts begins as Frederick “Freddie” Watson shows renowned medieval scholar Monsieur Saurat a letter written in Occitan, the old language of the Toulouse region. The letter is the color of dirty chalk and of a heavy weave, the writing faint and fractured.

As Freddie’s remarkable tale unfolds, we are left to ponder the significance of the letter and how it ties to the cause of Freddie's severe emotional anguish, a twisting trajectory that has left this poor man with shattered nerves after years of personal struggle. Although it has been a decade since the Armistice and life is supposed to have moved on, Freddie can't seem to rise above the death of George, his beloved older brother.

“Grief still holding him firmly in its grasp,” Freddie remains deeply haunted by the powerful images of a boastful, always proud mother and a truculent father who only wanted his cherished son back, “a son who played rugby and cricket, and went off to war.” Burdened by self-hatred and haunted by George dying in the mud, his men blasted to pieces by mines and bullets and choked by gas, Freddie’s ability to engage with anyone other than his dead brother has slowly ebbed away.

As Freddie tells of his dark days, of his confinement within a sanitarium deep in the Sussex Downs, we learn of his carefree motoring trip to the Continent. In the chill winter of Tarascon, he is able to find relief in the lush beauty of the Ariege river valley with its prehistoric landscape of caves and plunging cliffs. Suddenly there’s a strange disturbance, and images flash before Freddie: his parents, his battle with neurasthenia, and his memories of George.

When Freddie’s beloved Austin strikes a boulder, the bonnet buckles horribly and Freddie is injured, pain spasming through his head. In this world of illusion and shock, woods and mountains seem to whisper to Freddie, while in the bone-chilling cold, a mysterious woman called Fabrissa graces him with her presence. Harboring a delicate beauty, Fabrissa talks of an ancient buried prison of rock and stone.

A low mountain mist descends, shrouding everything in “a shifting diaphanous whiteness.” Freddie wanders the cobbled streets of a forgotten village, entering into a series of strange encounters that will give him the courage to forget the past and move on. From the mystery of several tattered pieces of fabric with a yellow cross, to the disconsolate, seemingly drab town of Null, to the confessions of gorgeous Fabrissa, Freddie’s darkest emotions and regrets are finally laid bare.

Mosse's tale explores the vicissitudes of the human heart, the immortal energies of history and desire. Moonbeams dance and shift as Fabrissa’s desperate words spin and spiral. Love and loss form a delicate balance in Freddie’s shattered mind as these haunting and melancholy voices call to him from across the generations, desperate to be heard.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2011

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