Review: Snow Country by Sebastian Faulks (2021)

Blurb

1914: Aspiring journalist Anton arrives in Vienna where he meets Delphine, a woman of experience and deep secrets. Entranced by the light of first love, Anton comes to life. Until his country declares war on hers.

1927: For Lena, life with her mother in a small town has been cosseted and cold. After a few years of schooling, she encounters a young lawyer who spirits her away to Vienna. However, what she imagines to be love soon crumbles, and she leaves the city behind to take a post at the snow-capped sanatorium, the Schloss Seeblick.

1933: Having lost many friends on the Eastern Front, Anton is sent to write about the mysterious Schloss Seeblick. In this place, on the banks of a silvery lake where the roots of human suffering are laid bare, two people will see each other as if for the first time.


Sweeping across Europe as it recovers from one war and awaits the coming of another, SNOW COUNTRY is a landmark novel of exquisite yearnings, dreams of youth and the sanctity of hope. In elegant, shimmering prose, Sebastian Faulks has produced an epic love story of timeless resonance.

Review

I was very excited to get an early read of Snow Country (even my family were impressed that I had an early copy of the new Sebastian Faulks novel – first time they’ve shown any interest in my book post!). Huge thanks to Najma at Hutchinson for sending me a proof copy in exchange for an honest review.

This is the second novel in the planned Austrian trilogy (which began with Human Traces), but it can absolutely be read as a standalone story. It is an elegant book, sweeping in its themes and locations, while also managing to feel intimate. The two protagonists, Anton and Lena (pronounced Layna), are complicated and original, their personalities built up in multiple layers, revealing a psychological astuteness on the part of the author that matches the setting of the Schloss Seeblick sanatorium. Lena in particular is such an interesting, unique character – I can’t think of any other character I have read recently to compare her to, and I loved seeing the idiosyncratic way she interacts with the world.

Faulks excels at the two cornerstones of a great novel: description and dialogue. The balance between the two is pitch-perfect, and the settings, from early twentieth century Vienna to the lakeside sanatorium surrounded by snow-capped mountains, feel as integral to the plot and the character development as the interactions between the characters themselves. There is something slantwise in the approach to the story that really intrigued me – perhaps connected to the inter-war setting much of the novel takes place in, a sense of sliding into the liminal spaces of history and closely examining the psychology of people who seem ordinary but are in fact anything but.

From a writing point of view, there’s so much to learn from Faulks about crafting beautiful prose that serves the story, that is not embellished for its own sake – every sentence, every description moves the narrative on. It flows wonderfully, and is a pleasure to read. I highly recommend this evocative story of the quiet places between the big events of history, the frenzied psychological activity taking place beneath a lake of seeming calm.

Snow Country by Sebastian Faulks is published by Hutchinson and is available to purchase here.

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