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Held

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Member Reviews

Beautifullly written and almost ethereal. The story is thought provoking and one that will stay with you.
Many thanks to Knopf, Pantheon, Vintage, and Anchor, and to Netgalley for providing me with a galley in exchange for my honest opinion.

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"Held" by Anne Michaels is a deep, reflective novel. Told in different settings, this book is poetic and dark. Thank you NetGalley, the author and publisher for the review copy. All opinions are my own.

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Beautifully, sparsely written. This is a book where you find the story between the words, letting the lyrical prose set the stage, embrace you and allow you to make of what is on the page and beyond. The story is effective - right now, for me in particular, thinking of the pointlessness and savagery of war and all it takes and also what ghosts it leaves behind. Truly a remarkable and singular book.

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I always say that I love it when a poet writes prose, and Held by Anne Michaels is no exception. There were so many phrases that I lingered on, highlighted, and want to come back to later. Told in a series of vignettes stretching from 1917 to 2025, this is the type of book you read for prose first and plot second.

Held opens with John, laying injured on a battlefield in France during WWI, drifting through his memories as he attempts to stay alive. We then follow John after the war, having returned home at least physically. But make no mistake, this novel isn't only John's story. We also drift into the lives of his wife, Helena, their descendants, and people only tangentially related to them. While there isn't an overarching "plot" that connects all these people, there are themes and sentiments that repeat: photography/art; love; the role of the past; the violence of war; and science, to name a few. Indeed, the novel is an excellent representation of the saying "history doesn't repeat itself but it often rhymes."

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I was in love with the prose of this book and the quiet yet forceful way these lives unfurl in the little moments we have with them. John's circumstances in particular were memorable, but I also really connected to the vignettes that take place closer to our time. My biggest recommendation with this book is to read it when you have time to really sit and savor each vignette. The disjointed nature of the writing is hard to walk away from and come back to. I started this book twice. The first time, I read a couple pages here and there, never for long stretches, and I struggled with the story. When I actually sat down and read for a long stretch, that's when I fell in love.

I can't wait to check out more of Michaels' backlist and poetry!

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Held is my first entry into Anne Michaels' work, and it will not be my last. Lyrical, poetical, heartrending, and introspective in a way I find difficult to put into words., Held tell the story of lives interwoven against a backdrop of time, war, and geography that is ever changing yet consistent. It is a love story at heart (between lovers, parents and children, brothers and sisters both genetic and found, of history and science and medicine), yet is full of grief and fear. It is calmly filled with tension and anxiety. The writing is absolutely beautiful, and I stare in wonder at the feelings and pictures Anne Michaels painted with her words.

Bonus points for the pharmacist scenes embedded at seemingly random times which echo to me from the past that we were always there and always will be.

Thank you to NetGalley and Knopf for the opportunity to read and review this ARC.

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I was captivated by this book, despite my usual struggle with poetry. The prose is exquisitely lyrical, evoking a sense of soft music playing in the background. Each chapter unfolds as a love story, spanning generations of a family navigating the trials and tribulations of their respective eras. The writing is so breathtakingly beautiful that I found myself lingering on each sentence, savoring the care and attention poured into every word. While poetry isn't typically my cup of tea, Anne Michaels' masterful craft has won me over. I'm eager to explore her other works and share them with dear friends as cherished gifts. Many thanks to Netgalley for the ARC.

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3.5 stars
I own both of Anne Michaels novels - they sit there waiting for me and have been waiting for many years - The Winter Vault and Fugitive Pieces, and there was one review here that said The Winter Vault is a great one to read if you're a mood reader for a winter read. I may have to put that one on the list to do just that.

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This very unusual book reads more like prose poetry or a series of vignettes than a typical novel. The most coherent portion is the beginning with photographer John and his artist wife, Helena, who navigate their early relationship, his World War I service, and return to his photography business. I kind of lost the thread about 2/3 of the way through, not able to grasp what happened to a subsequent generation. It is beautifully written and far more memorable than any formulaic novel churned out, although you may scratch your head wondering what you just read. #Held #NetGalley

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The publisher’s blurb calls Held a “breathtaking and ineffable” novel, and it is. There is a dreamlike quality to this multi-decade, multi-generational story of war and love and memory. Beginning with John lying waiting to die in a bleak battlefield in France, we move back and forth between decades and places and characters, all connected in ways both direct and chance met.
John, still alive but not whole, returns home to his business as a photographer and finds that his subjects’ dead kin sometimes appear in their portraits, manifesting uninvited in the developing pan. Other characters are marked by multiple wars through their struggles to save lives that are as often as not taken immediately afterward by another bomb.
We get glimpses of these characters’ inner turmoil and their deepest desires and yet somehow never get to know them. The reader looking for a straightforward historical narrative will not find it and yet this meditation on the power of memory and love and the places where they intersect is a powerful one that may well stay with you.

Amanda Cockrell
This review ran in the February 2024 issue of Historical Novels Review

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4.5⭐️

Held by Anne Michaels opens on a battlefield in France in 1917, where John, a soldier, lies injured after a blast leaves him floating in and out of consciousness. His mind wanders as he reflects upon the significant moments and people in his life. We meet John again in 1930, running a photography business in Yorkshire with memories of battle and the devastation and loss that followed haunting his every thought, even finding their way into the pictures he takes. Though married to Helen and attempting to lead a normal life – not an easy journey for a man whose physical and emotional scars serve as a constant reminder of how much he last lost. We follow John's family and those connected to them through four generations following the tragedies, relationships and challenges they face and the choices they make as they find their way in the world and how the past and memories of the people they have loved and lost leave an indelible imprint on their lives.

Written in elegant poetic prose, heartbreaking yet hopeful, blending fictional and real characters and significant moments from history spanning over a century, this novel is a memorable read. I’ll admit that it took a while to adjust to the fragmented non-linear nature of the narrative but when I began to connect the dots, I was immersed in this thought-provoking short novel that revolves around family, love, loss and fate, the invisible threads that connect people and the ties that bind the past, present and the future into a continuous saga of the human experience.

If you read this short novel with a bit of patience, allowing for moments of pause and reflection, this will prove a rewarding experience. There were parts of this novel I read multiple times and would love to read again. This was my first time reading Anne Michaels and I shall definitely explore more of her work.

Many thanks to Knopf, Pantheon, Vintage, and Anchor for the digital review copy via NetGalley. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.

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I don’t think I’ve ever read a book like Held before. We start on a WWI battlefield in France, with a soldier named John who has just survived a blast. Then we follow John’s memory to a pub, where he first met his partner, and then over the course of the book we follow John and his family through to 2025.

To be honest, I found this book pretty hard to review. There is a gripping narrative, and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know John, Helena, and the subsequent members of their family. However, this book was full of fleeting moments, and as soon as I became enraptured by something, I was whisked away to another time and place. And I suppose that might be the point of Held; to display how everything in life is temporary, and moments cannot be captured and held forever.

I loved the section about how wives of men who worked at sea knitted specific things into their husband’s clothing, in case they had to identify them in unfortunate circumstances. This was not only interesting, but I felt this helped evoke a certain mood early on in the book. There was also a little bit about spirit photography, which I very much enjoyed.

Held is not my typical kind of book, but I’m very glad I read it. It is a memorable and enjoyable novel.

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11/2024
Held by Anne Michaels
"Those we love never go away, they walk beside us everyday". This is the central theme of this poignant novel by Anne Michaels. This is a string of interconnected stories spanning several centuries where some of the characters come and go and then return to haunt us. Sounds a bit like North Woods, doesn't it? A lyrical ode to love, loss, longing and the promise of forever. Don't read this for the plot but for the beautiful, poetic, haunting prose. Each sentence carries a world of meaning. To be honest, I cannot claim to have absorbed it all in one reading. As the author says in one of the chapters, this is a book which begins in the middle. It then goes back and forth as the stories unfold. Perfect for book clubs and for a buddy read with lovers of evocative literary fiction
Thank you NetGalley @netgalley, Knopf @aaknopf and Anne Michaels for the ARC

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The going down of the Sun will happen for each and every one of us.

Anne Michaels creates a walk through generations focusing on rememberance. How deep is the imprint of a soul that has found its way to a higher realm? And what, if possible, exactly measures and defines that impact?

Michaels begins with John, a young soldier pinned down in battle in Cambria, France in 1917. As they say, there are no atheists in foxholes. But John reflects on the simple, daily, mundane motions of life with his mother roasting chestnuts and his grandmother knitting sweaters for the local fisherman with a special identifying stitch as rules of the sea. "Mother, knit me a prayer."

Then we meet Helena, John's wife, who got off at the wrong train station and into John's presence. Are there really accidents and mistakes in life or is it all predestined? Helena will become the solid weight in John's life.

Michaels takes us on a continuous unfolding of these lives with John and Helena and Peter and Mara and so many more through 1951, 1980, and 1984. But I will leave you to savor the tellings located on Page 118 of this superb novella. It is these ponderings that are timeless in their essence. How a simple farmer's field can become a battlefield. How love and loss become love and gain over and over again. It boggles the mind to reflect on the intentions of life: the innocence, the trauma, the horrendous pounding hand of hatred. And yet, there is profound beauty in it all. A glimpse, a glimmer or a wash of light and an essence of unspeakable joy.

I received a copy of this book through NetGalley for an honest review. My thanks to Alfred A. Knopf Publishing (Penguin Random House) and to the talented Anne Michaels for the opportunity.

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Thanks to Netgalley and Knopf for the ebook. The book starts with a haunting image as a soldier in World War One lies by a river, wounded and unable to feel his legs. That soldier makes his way back home and back to the love of his life. He starts a photography business and is shocked to find ghosts lurking in the shadows of the pictures he takes. This book moves back and forth through time to show other relationships as couples find their own moments of grace and, mostly, ignore their own ghosts from the past

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Some of the insights and observations in Held are superb. However, as a story, author Anne Michaels misses the boat. It simply does not work well as a story.
Thanks NetGalley for the ARC.

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I found this book very confusing. It tried to be lyrical and it did not work for me. This book hit the did not finish list.

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Lovely poetic writing but to be honest, I struggled with this as I was focused on the language and not the characters or the (somewhat limited) plot. I know I'm the odd one out but it just wasn't as engaging as I'd anticipated. Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC. For Michaels' fans (and there are many) and fans of literary fiction.

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Held
By Anne Michaels

This book jumps from time period to time period, from character to character. There are short sections – some as short as one sentence - which seem to be attempting to convey ideas about relationships and love, but I found the episodes hard to follow. In fact, at times I could not figure out exactly what the author was trying to get across.

The writing is lyrical, but it is not enough to carry a book which really has no story to speak of. I read the whole thing waiting to "get it". For me, that never happened.

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This book took me forever to read, as it takes a lot of mental focus to keep up with the constant jumping around of the characters and their timeline. It felt a bit choppy, until I got use to it. The book is a run of a family from the 1917 to 2025. It starts with the mind of a wounded soldier in WWI as his thoughts run the gamut from pain, and death, and to family. Then it’s 1920 and he is home readjusting to life with his wife and becoming a photographer. Then the story jumps to different times and other people. It’s not an easy read, but the way it’s written, the scenes give you food for thought.
I received this ARC of this book from NetGalley, but giving a review is of my own volition.

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There were so many meditative clips throughout this book that really made me stop and think. I highlighted the heck out of so many passages. I also thought it was a bit of a jumbled mess, which is ok, but I think it could have been handled better to make the book shine a little more.

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