So, here in London, after a deliciously mild winter, it decided to snow last night. I quite like snow when it first arrives — the magic appearance of all those little snowflakes falling from the sky and turning everything they fall on a pristine white makes my heart leap — but then, fickle contrarian that I am, I quickly grow sick of it. Too slippy to walk on, too cold, too ugly when it turns slushy and grey, and too difficult for London Transport to deal with!
That’s why I think the best kind of snow is the snow you find in a good novel. That way you can see it in your imagination but you don’t have to deal with the reality of it.
Here’s five snow novels arranged in alphabetical order by author’s surname. Hyperlinks take you to my review.
Many Scandinavian novels feature snowy settings, but the wintry landscape is a key component in Åsa Larsson’s haunting crime thriller. Set in rural Sweden, it tells the story of two teenage lovers who disappear while diving in a secluded —and frozen — lake one winter’s day. When the body of one of them resurfaces during the springtime thaw an investigation is launched into her death and a search begins for her companion. The fast-paced narrative, which is set over three weeks, is filled with moody descriptions of the landscape emerging from the big sleep of winter. Try not to shiver.
‘Snow’ by Orhan Pamuk (2004)*
This political thriller set in the eastern Turkish city of Kars (kar is Turkish for ‘snow’) is a deeply atmospheric read. In telling the story of a Turkish exile returning to his homeland in order to report on a spate of suicides, Pamuk does a terrific turn at describing the political, cultural and religious tensions of the country. And he writes so evocatively of the weather — heavy snow cuts off Kars for several days — that you feel like you’re actually in Kars, stuck in a remote location cut off from the rest of the world, and the best you can do is hunker down and try not to shudder from the imagined cold.
The rugged beauty of the Canadian wilderness in the late 19th century is the setting of this award-winning novel, which is part crime fiction, part epic adventure tale. In a frontier township on the edge of the Arctic Circle, a French settler is found murdered in his shack. His neighbour decides to track down the killer when her teenage son is accused of the crime. What follows is a fast-paced cat-and-mouse hunt across some of the most isolated, and dangerous, terrain on earth. Penney’s descriptions of the landscape, the coldness — and the fear — are pitch-perfect.
Ali Shaw’s debut novel is like a modern day fairy tale. It is set on a fictional wind-swept and snowbound island, St Hauda, where strange and unusual events take place. Ida MacLaird visits the island in search of a cure for a mysterious illness that turns her feet into glass. She falls in love with a young man who helps her on her mission. But it is the descriptions of the beautiful snowy landscape, the fragility of which mirrors Ida’s painful condition, that makes the story an evocative, if occasionally oblique, read.
Touch by Alexi Zentner (2011)
Set in the icy wilderness of Canada in the early 20th century, this Giller-longlisted tale is ripe with adventure, hardship, tragedy, murder, romance — and dark fairy tales. Told in the first person by a 40-year-old Anglican priest returning to the place of his birth, it spans three generations of a fascinating family history, beginning with the founding of a frontier town. The ferocious weather, including a 30-foot snow storm in which the town’s residents are cut off from civilisation for one long, unbearable winter, plays a key part in the story. Zentner’s descriptions are eloquent and often poignant.
Have you read any of these books? Can you recommend any other snowy reads?
* Not reviewed on the blog.