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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Winter Letters

Agustín Fernández Paz

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To purchase Winter Letters

Title: Winter Letters
Author: Agustín Fernández Paz
Genre: Novel
Written: 1995, rev. 2007 (Eng. 2015)
Length: 84 pages
Original in: Galician
Availability: Winter Letters - US
Winter Letters - UK
Winter Letters - Canada
Winter Letters - India
Cartas de invierno - España (Gallego)
Cartas de invierno - España (Español)
  • Galician title: Cartas de invierno
  • Translated by Jonathan Dunne

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Our Assessment:

B+ : well-crafted Lovecraftian horror tale

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Winter Letters is a tale entirely in the Lovecraftian mode, and Agustín Fernández Paz doesn't pretend otherwise: the epigraph is from Lovecraft and the master is quickly invoked in the story proper -- "his tales fascinated me", one of the characters reminds another.
       The story is nicely presented, the narrative going three layers deep. It begins with Tareixa Louzao receiving a padded envelope from her brother, a well-known and successful writer named Xabier, whom she hasn't heard from in some two months (which had made her anxious -- it was unlike him not to write for so long). Inside the envelope is a letter from Xabier -- and another envelope, which he asks her not to open. Instead, he instructs her to wait a week, and if she hasn't heard from him by then she should bring the envelope to a police inspector he knows -- without looking at the contents herself; "I can't bear the pain you would feel", if she does, he warns.
       She doesn't immediately rip open the mysterious envelope, but she doesn't do or wait as instructed either. The next part of the narrative then consists of the contents: Xabier's account of what has happened, as well as a pack of letters addressed to him from his close friend, the world-famous painter, Adrián Novoa.
       Xabier explains that a while back Adrián had considered moving back to Galicia, hoping to find inspiration in his roots and the Galician countryside. Xabier happens to come across a small advert in a newspaper: "FOR SALE haunted house, no time-wasters or jokers". They have a good laugh over that and Adrián takes down the phone number, but nothing more of it comes at the time -- and Xabier soon takes up a cushy visiting lectureship in Canada for half a year, losing touch with Adrián and what becomes of him for the duration. Only upon returning does he find these letters of Adrián that recount was has happened in the meantime.
       Adrián describes deciding to have a look at the house after all, and being completely taken by it: "It's as if it has me under its spell". He bought it, had it fixed up -- and then settled in. Still, all the while, he can't help but notice that the locals are very tight-lipped about the house's supposedly 'haunted' nature:

They know something, of that I'm sure, because whenever I ask them about the house, they fall silent, a flicker of fear passes through their eyes. But they don't say a word.
       Fernández Paz nicely and effectively moves the story forward in these letter-chapters, from Adrián's excitement about his new house to his discovery that there is something rather off here and his investigations, which pull him deeper and deeper into the abyss. Xabier only gets the letters all at once, and then rushes out to help his friend -- dispatching his own final letter, to his sister, just in case, as he follows Adrián's footsteps.
       The final chapter has Tareixa dealing with the aftermath (though wisely enlisting the help of the inspector her brother had recommended), bringing the story full-circle again.
       There is indeed something wrong with the house, and Fernández Paz presents this very well -- with a little, increasingly creepy mystery (a clever twist found in the pages of a book), and a few glimpses that find the deeper mystery disconcertingly just out of sight and uncertain -- even as it seems to be right around the corner. From an almost carefree attitude at first, the horror creeps closer and closer -- but without clearly revealing itself. It's a technique that isn't easy to pull off, but Fernández Paz does so well.
       This is a small story -- barely a novella -- and not a weighty one, but it is impressively well-crafted and -written (with translator Jonathan Dunne capturing just the right tone for the English version) and almost entirely satisfying. In fact, it's a fairly basic horror-story -- yet in its presentation and writing a cut considerably above most; it does Lovecraft justice.

- M.A.Orthofer, 29 September 2015

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Winter Letters: Reviews: Agustín Fernández Paz: Other books by Agustín Fernández Paz under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Galician-writing Agustín Fernández Paz lived 1947 to 2016. He was a popular author and especially known for his children's/YA books.

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© 2015-2017 the complete review

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