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A Winter Marriage    by Kerry Hardie order for
Winter Marriage
by Kerry Hardie
Order:  USA  Can
Back Bay, 2003 (2000)
Hardcover, Softcover

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

At first A Winter Marriage appears to be a story (with a strong element of mystery and a vein of horror running through it), that is primarily about the baggage that people bring into their relationships. But there's more to it than that. The mystery focuses on its main character, antiheroine Hannie, who has come to England from South Africa in search of a new husband to support herself and her teenage son Joss. She goes about it in a manipulative, cold-blooded fashion, but with an underlying honesty about her own motivations that makes some people like her despite herself.

Sixty-nine year-old Ned Renvyle sees in Hannie 'a selfish woman of loose morals and bad habits', but with other qualities that appeal to him. He marries her and takes her back to his isolated farm near Dunvargan in Ireland. There she misses the scale and sunlight of Africa and feels smothered by the close-knit community of Ned's friends and neighbours, who are interested in her connections. Hannie's behavior goes from bad to worse, and then there is Joss, who has an unhealthy interest in Ned's tenant Niamh, a grave-faced young artist who reminds Ned of his own youth. But, though Joss's behavior seems occasionally odd, it is Hannie's worry about it that introduces the element of horror.

Events unfold, the mystery is unveiled and we are able to understand how Hannie and Joss developed into what they are today. Despite her unappealing traits, we see Hannie's value mirrored in the solid friendships that she has somehow gained in her time in Ireland. And this tale becomes not so much one of baggage in marriage, but of loyalty in extremity, and of love growing in arid surroundings and in the hard, wintry times of our lives. A Winter Marriage is an engrossing novel, one that makes an excellent candidate for a reading group's analysis. It will give you a great deal to explore and to think about.

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