Minister Without Portfolio

Minister Without Portfolio

by Michael Winter

An emotionally resonant novel that confronts the deeply personal effects of war by a writer at the height of his power

Henry Hayward is a drowning man. With a soured long-term romance finally at an end, no family, and no refuge to be had in work, his days are progressively spent in the solace of alcohol. In a quest to simultaneously recover from unrequited love and to find meaning in what is becoming an increasingly emotionally arid life, Henry travels to Afghanistan as an army-affiliated contractor.

Henry becomes embedded in the regiment with which his friends and fellow Newfoundlanders are serving. In his efforts to adapt to a radically different environment,

Henry doesn’t have time to think about his fixation on Nora or the fragments of his old life. But everything changes during a tragic roadside incursion. And Henry, who survives, knows in his heart that he is responsible.

Upon his return home, now tormented by guilt, Henry begins to feel even more rootless than before until the question of his deceased friend’s old family summer home arises. Matters are complicated by the grief of Martha, his deceased friend’s long-term girlfriend, with whom Henry once had an affair.

In an unconventional twist of events, Henry attempts to bring meaning back into his life and make posthumous amends by planning to buy and repair the house. But he hasn’t factored family history into the picture—and Martha has a revelation of her own, which may change everything.


“[Michael Winter is a] writer who at once dangles the delicate bait because he knows we will take it, then sets the hook and reels us in hard. And when he has us in his boat, all we can do is stare up at him, gasping, not sure if he'll club or release us. And frankly, as readers, we don't care. We're thrilled, simply, to be along with him for the ride.”
—Joseph Boyden, Giller Prize-winning author of Through Black Spruce

“Evocatively told with spare, poetic elegance, this is a story of the love and life which can grow from a terrible loss. Henry is a man torn between escaping a past tragedy, and embracing its implications fully within his own life. Set in rural Canada, where the reverberations of world events can both shatter lives and offer the potential for redemption, Minister Without Portfolio is an essential, modern, Canadian novel.”
–Vincent Lam, Giller prize-winning author of Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures and the Headmaster’s Wager

“Michael Winter gives us the story of a man who suffers a shock, searches for a foundation, and rescues a home. This is a book about old-fashioned love, the very unlikely, smoking hot, so lucky you came across it kind. The lasting kind of love that blazes like a forest fire.  In Minister Without Portfolio Michael Winter takes a ballpeen hammer to your heart and finds the veins of gold. Every sentence is an ungrounded wire, megawatts of ebullience, wonder and sparking-spitting joy. Electric prose.”
—Lisa Moore, author of February and Caught

“Reading Michael's fiction is a lot like hearing him talk about his life. Packed with odd but compelling incident that in anyone else's hands would feel exaggerated or fake. Harrowing, in an after-the-fact hilarious way. Full of wonder and mystery. A hangover you wouldn't miss for the world.”
—Michael Crummey

Minister Without Portfolio is a masterful examination of the very marrow of life... the stylistic comparisons between Winter and Hemingway (or Winter and Carver) are pretty much rote, but they’re accurate. . . Minister Without Portfolio is essential reading, an honest, and at times frank-to-the-point-of-discomfort exploration of guilt, loss, faint hope and struggle. It peels back the surface calm and reveals the roiling, cold depths beneath, the currents that threaten to pull one down, that must be fought with all our strength. It’s the sort of book one fully expects to be on the awards shortlists in the coming months, and rightly so.”
National Post