Book review: Snow Country by Sebastian Faulks

Sixteen years after the book, Human Traces, Faulks has returned to Carinthia and to the Schloss Seeblick. Snow Country, intended as the second in a loose trilogy of Austrian novels, begins in 1914.

As the dark clouds of war mass on the horizon, Anton Heideck, an aspiring journalist in Vienna, meets Delphine, a French woman several years his senior, and falls deeply in love. When war breaks out, however, he is in Paris and Delphine is not only the enemy but she also disappears.

Meanwhile penniless Lena is growing up in small-town Carinthia. The sixth child of a drunk and chaotic mother and the only one not to be given up at birth to the local orphanage, Lena is torn between her hunger for love and her determination to take control of her own life. Disappointed first by her father and then by the idealistic lawyer who persuades her to come to Vienna, she takes a job at the Schloss Seeblick where her mother once worked as a cleaner.

In 1933 Anton, commissioned to write a magazine article about “where psychological medicine stands today”, himself travels to the Schloss. Much has changed. Midwinter is dead, Rebière long retired. Politically and economically, Austria is in turmoil. The clinic, now run by Midwinter’s daughter Martha, has been forced to sell its mountain-top premises and is once again housed in the old sanatorium by the lake.

The clinic’s lofty ambitions have also been brought down to earth. The carnage of the first world war has destroyed the old certainties. Anton dismisses the early ambitions of the clinic as a “well-intentioned but fatal overreaching”. And yet, for all his scepticism, Anton finds comfort there. His wartime experiences have left him deeply scarred. The Schloss, he admits, holds out “possibilities for change”.

I will not reveal more as I would ruin the story and will leave you to read it.

Sebastian Faulks is a master of story-telling and this book is a stand-alone story that does not require you to have read the first book in the trilogy. However, at times I found the story quite demanding as Faulks becomes weighed down with the psychological explanations. Nevertheless the history of the period is well-researched and comes to life in this book.

Do not be put off by some of the critics as Faulks is a powerhouse of writing and whilst this might not be my favourite of his novels it still deserves a good review.

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