Chilling thrillers and stone cold classics to read on World Book Day
As Storm Emma has us all under curfew, we list some great books to read by the fire
Raymond Briggs’s The Snowman, not to be confused with Jo Nesbo’s one
It’s World Book Day and it is also Snowmageddon. My fingers are Code Red as I type these very words but I shall press on for the sake of improved circulation, both my body’s and this website’s.
How about a listicle to go with all those icicles? Today’s theme is, eh, books about snow: some topical and inspirational reading tips to pass the time while we are all held under house arrest by Storm Emma.
The Big Snow by David Park (2002)
Set in 1963 against a backdrop of one of Ireland’s worst winters. A fierce blizzard distrupts the normal rhythms of a town in Northern Ireland, exposing the deeply held desires and powerful rifts in the community and reveals the innermost secrets, desires, and emotions of its inhabitants. Park is one of our finest contemporary writers, best known for The Truth Commissioner, recently adapted for television. In his latest novel, Travelling in a Strange Land, reviewed here on March 10th, Park uses a whited-out, almost impregnable midwinter landscape to explore the physical and emotional journey of Tom, a middle-aged father of three who is setting out from the family home near Belfast to collect his son Luke from university in Sunderland and bring him home for Christmas. The airports are closed, so the only option is the car ferry.
Check out this other snowy story by him: Boxing Day
Snow by Orhan Pamuk (2011)
Pamuk’s novel, set in an Anatolian city cut off from the rest of the country during a three-day snowstorm, lays bare the complexity of Turkey’s divided soul. Returning to Turkey from exile in the West, the secular poet Ka is driven by curiosity to investigate a surprising wave of suicides among religious girls forbidden by the government to wear their head scarves in school. But the epicentre of the suicides, the bleak, impoverished border city of Kars, is also home to the beautiful Ipek, a friend of Ka’s youth whom he has never forgotten and whose spirited younger sister is a leader of the rebellious schoolgirls. As a fierce snowstorm descends, cutting them off from the world, violence between the military and local Islamic radicals begins to explode, and Ka finds his sympathies drawn in unexpected and dramatic directions.
The Snowman by Jo Nesbo (2007)
Now a major film starring Michael Fassbender, this is the first Jo Nesbo book I read (though the seventh in the series) and is still probably his best in my book, as the law of diminishing returns reduces the shock value of his plotting. It is terrifying and compulsive with a killer twist. Don’t take my word for it: 36 million readers can’t be wrong.
A young boy wakes to find his mother missing. Outside, he sees her favourite scarf – wrapped around the neck of a snowman. Detective Harry Hole soon discovers that an alarming number of wives and mothers have gone missing over the years. When a second woman disappears, Harry’s worst suspicion is confirmed: a serial killer is operating on his home turf.
The Snowman by Raymond Briggs (1978)
“I remember that winter because it had brought the heaviest snow I had ever seen. Snow had fallen steadily all night long and in the morning I woke in a room filled with light and silence, the whole world seemed to be held in a dream-like stillness. It was a magical day... and it was on that day I made the Snowman.”
One winter’s day, a boy builds a snowman who comes to life at the stroke of midnight. He and the boy play with appliances, toys and other bric-a-brac in the house, all while keeping quiet enough not to wake the boy’s parents.
Not to be confused with the above work of the same name by Jo Nesbo, The Snowman is a children’s picture book without words by English author Raymond Briggs, adapted into a 26-minute animated television special in 1982, nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. There is a hilarious spoof version dubbed with Cork accents larking about on the internet.
Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow by Peter Hoeg, translated by Tiina Nunnally (1992)
An award-winning literary thriller One snowy day in Copenhagen, six-year-old Isaiah falls to his death from a city rooftop.The police pronounce it an accident. But Isaiah’s neighbour, Smilla, an expert in the ways of snow and ice, suspects murder. She embarks on a dangerous quest to find the truth, following a path of clues as clear to her as footsteps in the snow. It was made into a film starring Julia Ormond, Gabriel Byrne and Richard Haris by Bille August in 1997.
The Dead by James Joyce (from Dubliners, 1914)
The final short story in Joyce’s classic collection is also regarded as one of the finest short stories ever written. Joyce biographer and critic Richard Ellmann wrote “In its lyrical, melancholy acceptance of all that life and death offer, ‘The Dead’ is a linchpin in Joyce’s work.” What begins as a joyful celebration marking the end lf the Christmas season turns into a meditation on love and loss. It ends with one of the most famous scenes in Irish literature, with the protagonist Gabriel Conroy at a bedroom window, watching the snow fall, and the narrative expands past him, encompassing the entirety of Ireland.
“A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”