EXCERPT: When Anton arrived the following day, he found that Delphine had set up a work table for him at the window overlooking the park.
Having never lived with a woman before, still less with one who fascinated him so much, he found it difficult to settle down to work. Panama seemed more than remote, it seemed unreal. Emerald and her devotions, Maxwell and his brandy bottle, the giant wheel that turned the lock gates lying flat in its braced iron bed . . . Perhaps he had in truth caught yellow fever and hallucinated all these things.
What was real was the smell of coffee from the kitchen next door, the sound of Delphine singing to herself as she tidied, her footsteps on the wooden floor. He went in, stood behind her and put his arms around her waist, then pressed himself against her.
ABOUT ‘SNOW COUNTRY’: 1914: Young Anton Heideck has arrived in Vienna, eager to make his name as a journalist. While working part-time as a private tutor, he encounters Delphine, a woman who mixes startling candour with deep reserve. Entranced by the light of first love, Anton feels himself blessed. Until his country declares war on hers.
1927: For Lena, life with a drunken mother in a small town has been impoverished and cold. She is convinced she can amount to nothing until a young lawyer, Rudolf Plischke, spirits her away to Vienna. But the capital proves unforgiving. Lena leaves her metropolitan dream behind to take a menial job at the snow-bound sanatorium, the Schloss Seeblick.
1933: Still struggling to come terms with the loss of so many friends on the Eastern Front, Anton, now an established writer, is commissioned by a magazine to visit the mysterious Schloss Seeblick. In this place of healing, on the banks of a silvery lake, where the depths of human suffering and the chances of redemption are explored, two people will see each other as if for the first time.
MY THOUGHTS: Snow Country is a book of dreams, yearning and hope balanced against the horrors of WWI and the approach of WWII, and the struggles, both political and personal, of the period in between. The scope of this novel is huge, almost too huge, and I sometimes felt swamped by it, rather than encompassed by it as I have with other works I have read by this author.
Lena is the common thread, the character who ties the other characters to the story. She is from a poor background, poor in both money and upbringing. She was also a poor student, leaving school with few academic skills, but natural abilities in other areas. All Lena really wants is to be loved, and a good part of this story is devoted to her journey towards finding that love. It is not a smooth, nor a predictable path.
My favourite characters were those of Delphine, a Frenchwoman with whom a young and inexperienced Anton falls in love; and Martha, a therapist at the psychiatric institute. My least favourite character was Rudolf, whose only great passion is politics, and who seems incapable of recognizing human emotions in others, or of responding to them.
This is a very slow moving read with a lot of dialogue. At times I found it hard to get to grips with the characters. Even after finishing it, I am still not sure if Lena’s, Rudolf’s and Anton’s stories were merely a vehicle for the political history of Austria between the wars, or vice versa. Looking back on this reading experience it was like stumbling down a long, unfamiliar path in the dead of night, with no light, and no idea of where you are going.
I did love the section devoted to the building of the Panama Canal. It was such a huge feat, built at the cost of so many lives, and I had never before considered the logistics of the task. Faulks made this very real for me.
There is some beautiful writing in Snow Country, but this is nowhere near the author’s best work, of which my personal favourite is Birdsong.
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T: @ SebastianFaulks @RandomHouseUK @HutchHeinemann
#comingofage #historicalfiction #mystery #romance #sliceoflife
THE AUTHOR: Sebastian Faulks was born in 1953, and grew up in Newbury, the son of a judge and a repertory actress. He attended Wellington College and studied at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, although he didn’t enjoy attending either institution. Cambridge in the 70s was still quite male-dominated, and he says that you had to cycle about 5 miles to meet a girl. He was the first literary editor of “The Independent”, and then went on to become deputy editor of “The Sunday Independent”. Sebastian Faulks was awarded the CBE in 2002. He and his family live in London.
DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Random House UK, Cornerstone, via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of Snow Country by Sebastian Faulks for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.
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