5 books, Book lists

5 books about snow

5-books-200pixSo, 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-passed

‘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

‘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.

Tenderness

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. 

GlassFeet

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

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.

Author, Åsa Larsson, Book review, Books in translation, crime/thriller, Fiction, Maclehose Press, Publisher, Setting, Sweden

‘Until Thy Wrath Be Past’ by Åsa Larsson

Until-thy-wrath-be-passed

Fiction – hardcover; MacLehose Press; 317 pages; 2011. Translated from the Swedish by Laurie Thompson. Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

I remember how we died.

So begins Åsa Larsson’s haunting Scandinavian crime thriller Until Thy Wrath Be Past (the title refers to a passage from the Book of Job).

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. Their bodies are never found, but the beyond-the-grave narrator, who begins the book, reveals that they met with foul play.

When Wilma Persson’s body surfaces in the River Thorne, far from the lake, during the spring-time thaw, the authorities assume she simply drowned. But why are her lungs filled with water from a different source? And why is there green paint underneath her fingernails?

Enter prosecutor Rebecka Martinsson and police inspector Anna-Maria Mella, two “alpha females”, who launch an investigation into the girl’s death and a hunt for her boyfriend’s body.

This fast-paced narrative, which begins on April 16 and concludes on May 3 (the dates act as chapter headings), is largely told in the third person. But early on in the novel, the voice of Wilma, the dead girl, butts in:

I go to visit the prosecutor. She’s the first person to see me since I died. She’s wide awake. Sees me clearly when I sit down on her bed.

Admittedly this supernatural element* may not appeal to all readers, but it gives the story an added dimension: that of the victim, who can tell her version of what really happened. And it also gives us, the reader, a vital piece of information that the police know nothing about: the pair had discovered a plane at the bottom of the lake, a plane that had been carrying supplies for the Wehrmacht in 1943.

As it turns out, the investigation’s success hinges on the discovery of the plane — and its reason for being there. Larsson uses this to devastating effect, by interleaving the narrative with flashbacks to the Second World War in which Sweden collaborated with the Germans. (This seems to be a recurrent theme in Swedish crime fiction.)

What particularly makes this novel work is not just the superb characterisation (both Martinsson and Mella feel like real flesh-and-blood women, one of whom juggles motherhood with her career, another who is trying to make a passionate but complicated long-distance relationship work), but the subsidiary plot lines — the police dog-handler has an unrequited “thing” for Martinsson, which is strangely moving — and the way in which Larsson keeps the momentum, and the suspense, on overdrive. She is excellent at what I call the foreshadowing effect, giving us little clues that bad things are going to happen up ahead. For example, after one character makes what seems like an innocent phonecall to a neighbour, she writes:

He cannot know what a terrible mistake that is. What consequences that telephone call will have.

And of course it wouldn’t be a proper Scandinavian crime novel without plenty of moody and atmospheric descriptions:

A week passes. Snow crashes down from the trees. Sighs deeply as it collapses into the sunny warmth. Bare patches appear. The southern sides of antills heat up in the sun. The snow buntings return. Martinsson’s neighbour Sivving Fjallborg finds bear tracks in the forest. The big sleep of winter is over.

Until Thy Wrath Be Past is a terrific thriller, and while it’s part of the “Rebecka Martinsson crime series” of which there are three previous novels, it can be safely read as a standalone. I found it to be a heart-hammering read — the first chapter is one of the most exciting first chapters I’ve read in a long while — with a multi-layered plot and a satisfying, if slightly Hollywoodish, ending.

* If that’s not your kind of thing, it might help to know the girl’s first-person account begins to wane the further you get into the book.