Friday, 27 July 2007

Book Review - Light on Snow by Anita Shreve

I just finished this book (haven't got the new Harry Potter yet (stupid bills, budgets . . . mutter mutter mutter grrr), and I thought I'd write my views on it.

This isn't a book I would normally buy, I don't gravitate towards the realistic, female writer section of a bookstore, but I saw this one in the charity shop up the road, and something made me pick it up. The back of it had a brief outline of the plot - very brief, basically saying some people find a baby in the woods, which is only the first couple of chapters, and all the reviews on the back mentioned emotions - something that would normally make me throw it right back on the shelf, but I bought it anyway for some reason. It sat on the shelf for a while, then it moved to become my bathroom book - yeah, I read books in the bathroom. It's either that or shampoo bottles, and I think I could tell you what bathroom product something is, just from the list of ingredients. Not mega expensive books or anything, just cheap charity shop books with big print and not a huge amount of pages. Like Light on Snow.

From the first chapter, I wanted to read more. The language used is direct, to the point, I wouldn't say the language was deliberately trying to be 'emotive' (another word from the back of the book). You know how some 'emotive' books use big flowery words, obviously trying to pull at your heartstrings in a literary way (one of the reasons I don't normally read them, it turns me right off, and detracts from the story)? Well, this wasn't like that. It's written in first person, from the perspective of a woman (Nicky) looking back at when she was 12 years old. It really felt like someone talking, you know?.

The chapters flit between the 'present' of the story (when the character was 12 years old), and a few years before that, at the time when her mother and sister were killed in an accident. The finding of the baby in the woods brings back memories and feelings of her baby sister, and little episodes of their life together are interspersed with the main story. Those parts actually made me cry, when Shreve was writing about the accident and the loss of half of the family - Nicky is left with her father after the accident and they move to a small town in her fathers attempt to remove himself from memories of it. I suppose that's why it's described as being so emotional - you can really feel the loss, and devastation caused. I think the simple language helps with this, and hearing it through Nicky's voice. I had to put the book down for a couple of days then go back to it, because it affected me so much. But I did go back, because I simply had to read more.

Finding the baby brings up feelings and brings Nicky and her father's grief to the forefront, but they are forced to deal with those feelings when the baby's mother (Charlotte) shows up at their house, and is stuck there in a snow storm. Nicky alternately sees Charlotte as a mother figure or a sister, and realises again how much she has lost, and how her life was affected with the sudden removal of all female figures from her family - how her life is so different now she lives with only her father, in a secluded part of a small town. Yet, it doesn't feel like Shreve comes right out and says these things intrusively. It's mentioned directly, but it's still part of the story, and you're drawn right into Nicky's feelings about her life. She's very skillful at that - drawing you right in. Lol, the book actually escaped from the bathroom a few times because I just couldn't put it down!

Nicky's father is also forced to deal with his feelings about the accident as well. The deliberate abandonment of a baby outrages him, who has lost a child through no fault of his own. He moved away from a city to the middle of nowhere to escape his own loss, and is now confronted with the mother of an abandoned child in his own home. He acknowledges she is stuck with them for a while, but won't even speak to her for a while, still trying to keep his feelings under the surface. Gradually, through Nicky's eyes, you see her father being forced to accept the situation, and recognise his feelings. Not remove them, but at least begin to deal with them.

Yes, there's a lot of mention of feelings and emotions in this book. The story drives right along though, with not too much dwelling on them on the part of the author, something I personally congratulate her for. I hate it when you get a whole chapter on how someone is feeling, and it's all soppy and hyperbolic. I like to be able to derive the character's emotions and motivations through the prose of the story, and not have it explained right out to me. If the writing is good enough, you can tell exactly what the character feels and wants, and this is a book in which the writing is definitely good enough. If it wasn't for my budget, I'd be on amazon right now ordering more of her books!

Oh, and there's knitting too! Nicky knits and makes bead necklaces, and her hobbies are mentioned quite frequently, another thing that makes her seem more real as a character. That was totally unexpected when it first popped up, in a throwaway comment, but her knitting and beading are mentioned again and again, just as a real person's hobbies are. That was a really nice touch. And knitting is always good in a story! (Actually, thinking about it, I think this is the first book I've read with knitting in it).

So if you see this book somewhere, I'd definitely recommend it. From the cover, it looks a bit 'emotional' and girly, but from a die-hard anti chick lit reader (I'd normally read horror, sci fi or thriller - 'boy books' as opposed to 'girl books'), it's one of the best books I've read in a while.


Soo said...

Anita Shreve does write well - I've read 2 or 3 of her books (not this one - although I will now!) and I've enjoyed them all.

Your Mystery Stole is looking great!

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