Compiled by Annabel
In its ninth year, Shiny New Books passed the 2000 mark in published posts. We thought it would be fun to go back through our archives to create some thematic reading lists, and re-share some great old reviews with our readers.
For our third list, we’re taking our theme from the current season and revisiting books with snow and ice in their titles. We hope this doesn’t make you feel too cold! Links in the titles will take you to the full original reviews.
Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
We start with Boy (yes, Boy is a girl). Boy has an abusive rat-catcher father and longs to escape – which she does by getting on a bus and travelling as far as it will go: to Flax Hill, and to Snow, the daughter of the man she falls in love with. Later she has her own daughter, Bird, and the trio is complete. The relationship between the three women of the title is depicted in a moving and intricate way. Oyeyemi has developed a sophisticated style which draws the reader in without giving them everything they want, and is neatly paced with a lyricism and natural rhythm which is beautiful without being showy. (Simon Thomas, 2014)
Snow Widows by Katherine MacInnes
Subtitled ‘Scott’s Fatal Antarctic Expedition Through the Eyes of the Women They Left Behind’, in this detailed and dedicated book, researched over ten years, Katherine MacInnes shows us through a fascinating present-tense narrative arrangement that triangulates where they were with what others saw and what they wrote and communicated, running in parallel with a detailed narrative of the journey itself, in all its grim trials and tribulations, and even with Amundsen’s successful expedition at times, and with the reporting in the papers, national and international. It’s a lovely, big and beautifully produced volume; even the endpapers are stunning. (Liz Dexter, 2022)
Snow by Marcus Sedgwick
It was a real shock to hear that Sedgwick died last year. Whether writing for children, YA or adults his skill shone out, and this non-fiction monograph for Little Toller on Snow didn’t disappoint. He moved from UK fenland to a chalet in the Haute-Savoie, on the edge of the French alps and adapted his life to living with snow for months of the year. This new life forms the frame around which he built the six chapters of this book which look at sayings, art, myths and legends, literature, exploration and science of the cold white stuff – one for each side of a snowflake. In this little book, Sedgwick demonstrates his profound respect for snow and real concern for the environment, alongside that childhood glee and never-ending wonder at its dangerous beauty. (Annabel, 2016)
Traitor in the Ice by K J Maitland
This book is a powerful, sometimes brutal historical novel set in the winter of 1607, when life seemed frozen by a cold that exploded trees and robbed people of life if they were caught outside without shelter and many layers of warm clothes. It is the second in a series which began with The Drowned City (reviewed here), in which the elusive Daniel Pursglove searched the flooded city of Bristol for an infamous traitor, but this novel stands alone as Daniel is sent to infiltrate a Catholic household. I really felt the cold, visualising everything held in suspension in ice, and experienced the tension of wondering what would happen next in a world where nothing was trustworthy. This is powerful writing which contrasts a courtly world of Kings, courtiers and conspiracies with the basics of a frozen Abbey building and grounds in the grip of an unexpected freeze. (Julie Barham, 2022)
The Ice by John Kåre Raake
John Kåre Rake is a successful Norwegian screen writer and his first novel is a mysterious thriller that uses its setting at the North Pole to put the reader through a tense and almost physically uncomfortable experience. The unseen menace is as much the place as the human enemy. The novel vividly creates the texture and feel of the bitter cold, the cutting winds and perpetual darkness. The novel also takes us beyond action-thriller violence into geopolitics. Elderly scientist Zakariassen’s research base is in the Fram Strait where the impact of global heating is particularly visible (It has heated by as much as 4 degrees centigrade from pre-industrial levels.) While most of us are horrified by the consequences of this, it appears as an opportunity to the assembling Great Powers. My only reservation about The Ice is that it became a little too generic towards the end, losing some of its thought-provoking quality in pursuit of ever increasing tension and excitement. (Gill Davies, 2021)
50 Words for Snow by Nancy Campbell
I greatly enjoyed reading Campbell’s meditation on the icy places of the world, The Library of Ice, so when I was alerted that she’d written this gem of a book about snow and its cultural and mythological status I just had to say yes to a copy. It’s a lovely object, and the contents, fifty words for snow and/or ice from around the world, both fascinating and strangely moving, and with a strong underlying message about climate change, as so many of the snowfields and glaciers mentioned are disappearing with global warming. Campbell is a careful writer, making sure she honours traditional and indigenous people, never drawing amusement where it’s not warranted. The book is a beautiful hardback with decorated cloth covers rather than a dust jacket. It’s printed in dark blue ink on pristine pages, and every entry is accompanied by a unique, stunning image of a snowflake (these are taken from the first known photographs of snow, by Wilson Bentley, who died in the 1930s). (Liz Dexter, 2020)
The Snow Line by Tessa McWatt
A disparate group of four total strangers meet at a wedding in the Punjab, India. Three are young and of Indian heritage; the fourth is Jackson, an 86-year-old white man who lived in India many years earlier. Jackson has a reason for coming to India – he recently lost his beloved wife Amelia and is bringing her ashes to scatter in some suitable place in the country they both loved. He doesn’t really know where that place will be. This will be the story of their final destination. Reema and the others are planning to go on a trip to the north, and suggest that Jackson joins them. Jackson at once starts to envisage the Himalayas as a perfect resting place for Amelia; his wife loved the snow. You’ll have to read this beautiful, subtle, keenly observed novel to see how things develop in the end. (Harriet, 2021)
Snow, Dog, Foot by Claudio Morandini
A black comedy about a hermit in the Italian Alps, this Italian bestseller starts off like Robert Seethaler’s A Whole Life and becomes increasingly reminiscent of Olga Tokarczuk’s Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead with its remote setting, hunting theme, and focus on an older character of dubious mental health. Adelmo Farandola hasn’t washed in years. Why bother since he only sees fellow humans every six months when he descends to the valley to stock up on food and wine? The next time, though, he gets a surprise. The shopkeeper laughs at him, saying he nearly cleared her out the week before. Sure enough, when he gets back to the cabin, he sees his stable is full of supplies. He also finds an old dog that won’t go away and soon starts talking to him. The hints of Adelmo’s dementia and mental illness accumulate gradually, making him a highly unreliable point-of-view character. This is a taut story that alternates between moments of humour and horror. I was so gripped that I read it in one evening sitting. (Rebecca Foster, 2020)
Ice by Anna Kavan
As with her life, Kavan’s novels range far and wide, and Ice, generally regarded as her triumph, is a book that defies classification. Telling a dark story of obsession and pursuit, a pale, glass-like girl with albino hair is the object of desire and dominance by the narrator and also the girl’s sinister husband, alternately known as an artist or simply by the rather intimidating title The Warden. This is played out against the backdrop of a world undergoing some kind of global catastrophe. As wars are fought and civilisations collapse, a new glacial age appears to be coming and the ice is gradually creeping over the planet threatening all life. The way we read a book which is as complex and provocative as Ice is inevitably going to change over the years; our points of view, our attitudes towards women and the constant fight they have for control of their bodies and their lives, will continue to inform readings of such a masterpiece. What *is* certain is that in a world wracked with fear, conflict and global warming, Kavan’s cold and bleak vision has never been more relevant. (Karen Langley, 2018)
Snow by John Banville
Snow was published under Banville’s own name, rather than his pseudonym for his other crime novels, Benjamin Black. I was intrigued, as Snow was described in the Guardian as ‘a typically elegant country house mystery’. And so it is: the first chapter begins ‘”The body is in the library’, Colonel Osborne said. “Come this way”’. But, though a murder takes place, a detective appears and eventually solves it, there’s much more to this – yes, elegant is the right word – novel than a homage to classic crime. Snow takes place in 1957, and is set in Ballyglass House in County Wexford, a crumbling Protestant stronghold in a ninety-per-cent Catholic county. The victim is Father Tom, a Catholic priest and frequent visitor to the house. Called in to investigate is DI St. John Strafford, whose own origins are also those of the Protestant landed gentry. An exceptionally quiet, self-contained, solitary man, a non-drinker who dislikes eating meat, he’s unsure why he joined the police and feels himself to be fundamentally unsuited to the job. Whether you’re an admirer of Banville or of Black, or new to both, this immersive novel is sure to please. Apparently we haven’t seen the last of Strafford, and I’ll be looking forward to his next outing. (Harriet, 2020)
The Snow Queen by Michael Cunningham
The Snow Queen is like a snow scene uninterrupted by footprints, beautiful to look at and perfect in its composition. It opens on a winter’s night in Brooklyn in November 2004, before George W. Bush is re-elected and closes on a winter’s day In November 2008, before Barack Obama is elected; these sections are interspersed by two other parts, one set on New Year’s Eve 2006 and another, six pages long, on “a night” the following April. “A celestial light appeared to Barrett Meeks in the sky over Central, four days after Barrett has been mauled, once again, by love” opens the novel and this light and the effect it has on Barrett, and the supporting characters, is the pervading theme of the separate events, or series of vignettes, in The Snow Queen. It is the search for transcendence by the two Meeks brothers, and the different means each takes to achieve it, that concerns Cunningham. The third-person narrative is told alternately from their points of view of Barrett and Tyler and, to a lesser extent, from the points of view of the women in their lives, and snow plays a key part in the setting. Read The Snow Queen if you want to read something as gentle and as intricately formed as a snowflake. (Claire Boyle, 2014)
Do click through on the book titles to read the full reviews from their précis here. We hope you enjoyed this list. Suggestions for our next one are welcome!
Annabel is co-founder and an editor of Shiny New Books.