Cold Enough for Snow is a strange, slim volume, written in gentle, sometimes graceful, prose. It is told from a daughter’s perspective, and structured around a trip to Tokyo taken by her and her mother. We’re given, in minute detail, each passing moment, from the arrival at the airport, through their meals and the specific routes taken as they traipse around the city. It also offers insights into the daughter’s past life and, through these, reveals her overwhelming desire to find meaning (or, more accurately, to coerce her experiences into meaningfulness).
It is apparent that this young woman is lost and trying to garner some intangible answer from the trip, and from her mother – something she fails to achieve. Yet there’s a sadistic aspect to her character, and her diligent perfectionism proves wearisome. Descriptions of her younger days present a person enamoured with the delusion of control, for example, when recounting her time waitressing: “I made a concentrated effort to be efficient and elegant, conscious of my gestures, my voice, the expression on my face . . .”
Generally, with such an unreliable narrator, a reader is at least fascinated by their perspective, or the story itself. Unfortunately, although this character’s mixture of heightened self-awareness and total obliviousness is curious, it’s never quite interesting enough to carry the non-events of the book.
Often she’s trite to the point of cliche, as when she tells her mother, somewhat ironically, that when looking at art, “The main thing was to be open, to listen, to know when and when not to speak.” Or, when viewing an exhibition of hanging tapestries, she thinks: “They reminded me of the seasons and, in their bare, visible threads, of something lovely and honest that had now been forgotten, a thing we could only look at but no longer live.”
In spite of moments of beauty, what can most truthfully be said of Cold Enough for Snow is that it is inoffensive. It will suit some readers (I think, most certainly, bookish adolescents) while quickly leaving the minds of others. Although it improved upon rereading, in the end it was so understated that it left me unsure as to whether Jessica Au’s writing was subtle to the point of genius, or just a little dull.