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Book review: Snow Country by Sebastian Faulks

book review

By Simon Demetriou


Drab Male Fantasy

 Any fondness I have for Snow Country is because the novel was given to me as a gift. Unfortunately, given that this book sets out to be a dramatic love story set against the backdrop of European tragedy and turmoil, the most moving part is the handwritten message on my inside cover which you don’t get to read.

The novel, part two of Faulks’s projected ‘Austrian trilogy’, tells two converging stories. The first, is that of Anton Heideck, a country boy turned foreign correspondent and writer. As a struggling journalist in Vienna, he meets and falls in love with Delphine who inducts the innocent Anton into the world of sensual pleasure and human connection. Unfortunately, the First World War intervenes, and while Anton is away pursuing his career, Delphine vanishes. The rest of Anton’s story is a convoluted attempt to deal with this heartbreak, first by going to war, then by sleeping with scores of prostitutes (see below), and finally by substituting one woman for another.

This is where the second story comes in. Lena is the youngest daughter of an alcoholic and compulsively reproductive mother. In her efforts to build a better life, Lena also moves to Vienna where a failed relationship leads to a brief spell in prostitution (including one notable client), before returning home and taking a job at the psychiatric hospital, the Schloss Seeblick, where her mother worked as a cleaner.

It is at the Schloss Seeblick that the stories converge, as Anton is sent to write a story on contemporary psychiatry and meets Lena again, failing to recognise her. Lena immediately identifies Anton as the tender lover who made such an impression that she offered her ongoing services at Anton’s convenience – and for free. The love story, such as it is, is mired in this kind of obvious male fantasy. Anton’s honed sexual skills (which he gains not due to lasciviousness but an excess of love for his lost Delphine, of course) can make a sex-worker forget about money. His bumbling efforts to purchase shirts can make this woman love him so intensely that she would give up anything to have the chance to be with him. Sure.

Ultimately, the book feels hollow: its silly and blatant masculinism renders both male and female characters superficial; and its depictions of historical events are under-researched and unbelievable. The culmination of this is that we’re meant to believe at the end of the novel that a foreign correspondent in 1937 doesn’t know the name of the German chancellor and had paid no attention to the rise of the Nazi party before the Nuremburg rally.

If nobody gets you Snow Country as a present, read something else.

 Snow Country by Sebastian Faulks is published by Hutchinson.

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