A Good Winter – Gigi Fenster


Olga becomes obsessed with a friend’s family under the guise of helping out during a crisis

❝  Olga is an older woman who has taken on the role of carer to her friend Lara, Lara’s grieving daughter Sophie and Sophie’s child Michael. The family are extremely grateful for – what appears to be – her selfless assistance.

Olga takes it upon herself to not only care for the baby, but to construct the family’s schedule and ensure it is adhered to, to monitor visitors she judges a bad influence and to scold the local gossips.

However, we the reader, get another version of the truth via Olga’s monologue narration in this psychological character study. From the outset we are privy to her thoughts and justifications which demonstrate a worsening case of obsession and create a real sense of unease.

Alongside the story of Olga and Lara’s family is the story of Olga’s own family, her childhood, her relationship with her mother, and her alienation from her brother and father.

However, Olga is clearly not a reliable source of information, and the reader is left to navigate her variations of acceptable behaviour and wandering truths as she narrates the stories of her past and her present.

Sometimes I’d feel like I was in one of those arcade games that kids like. Where there’s a queen who needs to be protected from killer insects.

❝  The characterisation of Olga in A Good Winter is addictive. Though the only character who receives this indepth treatment and despite nearly everything that she tells us being negative, unhinged or really annoying, the book and the story is not at all depressing to read. Instead I found it enthralling to discover what depths her over-active imagination would go to next. I imagined myself as one of the characters, rolling my eyes behind Olga’s back after another outburst about inane things like when and how to replace light bulbs.

The spiralling of Olga’s neuroses and the sense of impending doom are nicely built. We know there’s going to be some kind of crises as a result but what exactly that was going to be kept me guessing. – Rachel

❝ I polished this book off in a day and in the times I wasn’t reading it, it was all I could think about it. The obsessive and compulsive nature of the storyline felt like it had transferred into my real life and I was all for it, although I will put a less concerning spin on it and say that I was very engaged.

If the other Ockham shortlisters are of this calibre then I have some absolutely stunning reads ahead of me.

The author expertly leads readers through this novel with an assumption that not everything has to be completely spelled out and it was absolutely appreciated. My only disappointment with this book is by skimming the blurb on the back and reading the endorsement on the front there was more storyline given away than I would have liked, so I would definitely recommend just diving straight in.

One thing I am kind of happy to be left wondering about though is whether the awful main character was slightly relatable to everyone or just me? – Suzy


Published 2021
Text Publishing
260 pages

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