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.
‘Until Thy Wrath Be Past’ by Åsa Larsson (2011)
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 Tenderness of Wolves’ by Stef Penney (2007)
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.
‘The Girl With Glass Feet’ by Ali Shaw (2009)
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.
22 thoughts on “5 books about snow”
I’ve read (or rather, listened to) The Tenderness of Wolves – and you’re right, the descriptions of the snowy wastelands are quite mesmerising.
I’ve read the Pamuk you listed, quite dark and a bit too dull for me.
One that comes to mind is “Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow” by Peter Hoeg, I really liked it, although it’s a long time since I read it, so it deserves another read!
I really love Ann Beattie’s “Chilly scenes of winter”, but I can’t recall if it had a lot of snow in it.
I loved The Tenderness of Wolves! But my favorite Snow-book is Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow. I’ve re-read it several times and it’s always good.
I just finished Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman, so there is another one!
I think Canadian fiction is very good at capturing the snowy wilderness — its the equivalent of Australian fictions obsessession with the outback/landscapes.
I’ve read Tenderness of Wolves and Girl With Glass Feet – the former definitely brought across the feeling of wading through snow, so very clearly. But I’d forgotten the latter was even set in a snowy place!
I haven’t finished it, but The Snow Child by Eown Ivey is, obviously, very snow-focused (and, so far, very good). Also Blue Fox by Sjon, an Icelandic novella about tracking a fox through snow.
Fun idea for a post, Kim!
I’ve read two of those – Pamuk and Penney – and both are pretty evocative. Of course, as others have already suggested, there’s Smilla.
Another that springs to mind is Guterson’s Snow falling on cedars. And isn’t there quite a bit of snow in Proulx’s The shipping news?
And what about Dr Zhivago — long time since I read the book but there sure was snow in the movie!
And, just to widen it, there’s that funny ice/snow episode with the climate experts in McEwan’s Solar.
I didn’t enjoy the Pamuk, but did like Stef Penney and absolutely loved Ali Shaw (currently reading his new one). The people’s act of love by James Meek was brilliant – set in Siberia. And you can’t get colder than The Birthday Boys by Dame Beryl which was a fictionalisation of Scott’s tragic expedition to the Antarctic.
I had forgotten the episode in Solar… it is very funny.
Snow falling on cedars – obviously from the name there must be snow involved but I don’t remember any of it!
I believe “Ethan Frome” by Edith Wharton has a famous sledding scene in it. When we were kids in our one-room grade school in winter each class would read the long poem “Snowbound” by John Greenleaf Whittier.
My favourite “snow” novel is Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving, it’s not as snow infused as The Tenderness of Wolves, but it definitely features prominently throughout (at least as far as I can remember). Irving makes the reader very aware of the harsh cold climate and I remember feeling as if the chill of the Canadian weather had entered into my bones, despite being nestled in a warm flat in London. A brilliant book even if it isn’t all about snow.
I read the Pamuk in 2005 as part of an online reading group I used to run here. I never reviewed the book properly but I remember finding it quite a profound read that helped me understand Islam and secularism. It was a heavy read, but one I enjoyed. Haven’t been able to bring myself to read anything else by him, however.
I’ve not read Miss Smilla but saw the movie and remember it went a bit over-the-top near the end!
Ah yes, Mr Nesbo! I think I have all his books here, but haven’t read any of them.
Ah, was waiting for someone to mention The Snow Child. I actually dug out my copy for a read yesterday, but then thought I better finish off my book group read first (Helen Garner’s Monkey Grip), especially as I chose the book.
Love the sound of Blue Fox!
Great suggestions! Have read the Guterson and Proulx (both about 18 years ago!!) and yes, they’re both very much snow-filled reads.
Not read Solar… Am now intrigued…
I have People’s Act of Love in the pile somewhere, but hadn’t thought of The Birthday Boys…might be only person in blogosphere who’s never read a Bainbridge!
Ah yes, how could I forget Ethan Frome – I loved the book when I read it about 20 years ago! And the film was pretty good too.
Must hunt out the Snowbound poem…
Wow. The Irving book sounds very atmospheric. I’ve only ever read his Hotel New Hampshire and that was 20+ years ago!
I read touch which I really enjoyed. How about Snowdrops by AD Miller?
Have you read Snowdrops? Way before it got longlisted for the Booker it was pitched to me for review and I turned it down on the basis it didn’t seem very interesting to me. And based on the reviews that followed I’m convinced I made the right decision…
I did read it and didn’t particularly enjoy it. It was very well written but quite depressing and, quite frankly, a bit boring. You did make the right decision. I obviously should have researched it more before I chose it to read!
I loved The Tenderness of Wolves when I read it. And I plan on reading Asa Larsson this year–I have her first book ready to go. We’ve had a strangely mild winter this year, which I am not complaining about, so it was a shock last weekend when we got nine inches of snow at once. It is mostly still hear as a blast of arctic air followed. I knew we would have to pay for the nice weather. Maybe now you need a list of books with hot summery weather for a little escapism!