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Susan Midalia's Review

Anne Michaels’ luminous novel Fugitive Pieces, published in 1996, remains for many readers one of their most loved and admired works of fiction. Nearly thirty years later, with her novel Winter Vault coming in between, comes Michaels’ new novel Held: just as beautifully lyrical in style and even more challenging in form. At its heart, Held is a story that questions the nature of the human: our capacity for cruelty and compassion, violence and love, and whether anything remains – a soul, a spirit, memories – after the death of our bodily selves. Blending philosophy, science and poetry, and moving backwards and forwards in time, it traces the lives of generations of lovers and families in war-ravaged countries, rural seclusions and family homes, asking, where, if at all, we might create a meaningful life in the face of destruction and death.  


Held is not a conventional narrative with a strong linear plot of cause-and effect; rather, as its name suggests, it is a novel of suspended moments, in which time is the marker of our mortality. The novel offers links between generations by using subtly rendered symbols, including the movement of snow, the discoveries of photography, the solidity of stones, and the clothing with which characters protect their material selves and which they discard to experience sexual intimacy and love. To be held is also to feel the tender embrace of a parent, in the knowledge of their child’s vulnerability. It is a novel which requires us to read slowly, attentively, like an extended poem, but which also carries us forward into the relentless march of time.