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What to Look for in Winter: A Memoir in Blindness
     

What to Look for in Winter: A Memoir in Blindness

by Candia McWilliam
 

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The British literary sensation—“the most startling, discomforting, complicated, ungovernable, hilarious and heart-rending of memoirs ” (The Telegraph)—the story of a celebrated writer’s sudden descent into blindness, and of the redemptive journey into the past that her loss of sight sets in motion. Candia McWilliam, whose novels

Overview

The British literary sensation—“the most startling, discomforting, complicated, ungovernable, hilarious and heart-rending of memoirs ” (The Telegraph)—the story of a celebrated writer’s sudden descent into blindness, and of the redemptive journey into the past that her loss of sight sets in motion. Candia McWilliam, whose novels A Case of Knives, A Little Stranger, and Debatable Landmade her a reader favorite throughout the United Kingdom and around the world, here breaks her decade-long silence with a searing, intimate memoir that fans of Lorna Sage’s Bad Blood, Mary Karr’s Lit, and Diana Athill’s Somewhere Toward the End will agree “cements her status as one of our most important literary writers beyond question” (Financial Times).

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review.

Imagine your world abruptly shrouded in darkness, not because there's something wrong with your vision, but because your eyelids cannot stay open. This is what happened to Scottish writer McWilliam (A Case of Knives) at the age of 50. The condition is called blepharospasm and it's devastating, especially to McWilliam, a life-long reader, who still buys books "to have them handy by me, to have their breath in my air," though she can no longer read them. McWilliam believes that "by writing about my blindness and the life that...has brought it, I might lift it from my eyes." The resulting memoir sparkles with vivid descriptions, of her native Scotland and the idyllic island of Colonsay, of the many people in her life, and of the tragedies that punctuate it-a mother who committed suicide at the age of 36, two failed marriages, a long bout of alcoholism, crippling self-doubt, and finally, blindness. McWilliam's love of language is evident throughout. She is able to get at the essence of things in one scintillating sentence, as when she writes of her estranged architectural historian father: "He engaged with houses, less so with home." The book is an astonishingly beautiful portrait of what the world looks like when you can no longer see it.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Sunday Telegraph (London)
“The most startling, discomforting, complicated, ungovernable, hilarious and heart-rending of memoirs.”
The Telegraph (London)
“What a precise, poetic dissection of a life this is; how brave she was, and how wise, to undertake it.”
Sunday Times (London)
“Brilliant . . . breathtakingly raw in its self-excoriation. . . . Unforgettable.”
The Times (London)
“One of the most extraordinary literary autobiographies of this or any other year.”
The Independent
“Extraordinary.
New Statesman
“Beautiful, harrowing and in every way remarkable.”
the Oprah Magazine O
“A dramatic memoir, which showcases [McWilliam’s] elegant voice.”
Edmund White
“An astonishingly honest memoir about blindness, failed marriages and alcoholism as well as the joys of motherhood and the natural world. All delivered in a beautiful, athletic style one can only envy.”
Dave Nicholls
“Candia McWilliam’s much-praised memoir What to Look for in Winter is my favourite book of the year, startlingly honest, wry, sad and wise.”
Susan Ager
“[An] astonishing memoir - sprawling, riveting, out-of-control, heartbreaking, hilarious and at times so vivd and captivating that, yes, you might wish you had stood in McWilliam’s shoes.”
Jan Stuart
“[A] shimmering memoir….The unblinking contemplation of a life whose woozy chutes-and-ladders path led, literally and otherwise, into darkness….Eloquently recalled….McWilliam gathers the ineffable spaces of her past and knots them into something practical, expansive, and enduring.”
O: the Oprah Magazine
“A dramatic memoir, which showcases [McWilliam’s] elegant voice.”
Kirkus Reviews
Not just a remarkable memoir of McWilliam's (Wait Till I Tell You, 1997, etc.) battle with the onset of blindness, but also a blissful celebration of the poetry of her prose. Strange little asides, digressions and complete interruptions mark this work. Some readers may shake their heads in confusion, but they will surely forgive as the stream of the author's consciousness carries them along. She explains her functional blindness simply and matter-of-factly because, as a good Scot, speaking of dramatic personal matters is not acceptable. A masterful wordmonger, McWilliam consistently delivers the perfect word or phrase to express each thought. When she lost her sight, she was forced to adapt to audio books, but she never lost her love of the physical book. In addition to the loveliness of the prose, the author's life story is just good reading: her childhood in Edinburgh, happy days spent on the Scottish Isle of Colonsay, the years she ignored her writing talents and how she dealt with her blindness. She drops names in the British way of assuming readers know exactly whom she is talking about, and she includes so many of England's greats, who stimulated, encouraged and prodded her along the way. There is a slight hiccup in the middle of the book as McWilliam descends into cathartic confession, but it's easily skimmed through and worth the wade. Her alcoholism and guilt are nothing new, but readers will cherish the author's infectious bibliophilic delight. "I want to attest to the goodness of life and I want to share something," she writes in closing. "If it isn't a life--well, then, let it be a sentence." Anyone who enjoys a play of words and appreciates the turn of a phrase in a beautifully constructed sentence will value this book for years to come.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780062094506
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
03/20/2012
Pages:
464
Product dimensions:
6.36(w) x 9.06(h) x 1.42(d)

What People are Saying About This

Dave Nicholls
“Candia McWilliam’s much-praised memoir What to Look for in Winter is my favourite book of the year, startlingly honest, wry, sad and wise.”
Edmund White
“An astonishingly honest memoir about blindness, failed marriages and alcoholism as well as the joys of motherhood and the natural world. All delivered in a beautiful, athletic style one can only envy.”
Jan Stuart
“[A] shimmering memoir….The unblinking contemplation of a life whose woozy chutes-and-ladders path led, literally and otherwise, into darkness….Eloquently recalled….McWilliam gathers the ineffable spaces of her past and knots them into something practical, expansive, and enduring.”
Susan Ager
“[An] astonishing memoir - sprawling, riveting, out-of-control, heartbreaking, hilarious and at times so vivd and captivating that, yes, you might wish you had stood in McWilliam’s shoes.”

Meet the Author

Candia McWilliam was born in Edinburgh. She is the author of A Case of Knives (1988), which won a Betty Trask Prize; A Little Stranger (1989); Debatable Land (1994), which was awarded the Guardian Fiction Prize and the Premio Grinzane Cavour in its Italian translation for the best foreign novel of the year; and a collection of stories, Wait Till I Tell You (1997). In 2006 she began to suffer from the effects of blepharospasm and became functionally blind as a result. In 2009 she underwent an operation to partially reverse the condition. What to Look for in Winter won the South Bank Sky Arts Award for literature, the Spear's Book Award for memoir, the Hawthornden Prize, and was shortlisted for the Mind Book of the Year Award and the Duff Cooper Prize.

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