Snow Country by Sebastian Faulks: Unique and expansive love story

Book review: Second instalment of the author’s Austrian trilogy is set against the backdrop of the political and social upheaval of Europe in the first 30 years of the last century

Sebastian Faulks: Snow Country is the second instalment of the author’s Austrian trilogy, which began with  Human Traces in 2005. Photograph: David M Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images

Sebastian Faulks: Snow Country is the second instalment of the author’s Austrian trilogy, which began with Human Traces in 2005. Photograph: David M Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images

Sat, Aug 28, 2021, 06:00

   
 

Book Title:
Snow Country

ISBN-13:
978-1786330185

Author:
Sebastian Faulks

Publisher:
Hutchinson

Guideline Price:
£20.00

Snow Country marks the second instalment of Sebastian Faulks’s Austrian trilogy, which began with the acclaimed Human Traces in 2005 (both can be read as standalone works). Human Traces held a light over the evolution of psychiatry at the turn of the 19th century in Schloss Seeblick, the sanatorium the latest novel revisits a generation later. 

Snow Country is a sprawling novel that ebbs and flows through decades as two deeply sensitive people find each other, lose each other, find others and lose others. Lena Fontana is a young woman raised in the shadow of her mother’s alcoholism, poverty and promiscuity, an environment which forges a distance between mother and child, allowing Lena’s tendency to disappear into introspection to go uninterrupted. Anton Heideck, a “fitful, but not hopeless journalist”, takes a room at Seeblick while working on a story about whether Austria’s pre-eminence in psychiatry has been lost to America. 

Among the tangled minutiae of human connection, Faulks laces the political and social upheaval of Europe in the first 30 years of the last century. The scope of this is remarkable; characters’ lives play out in immense detail while retaining the observational quality Faulks has perfected rather than crossing over into mundane exposition. Lena and Anton’s stories spin off in tangents, with the reader following down the rabbit hole, eager to see where it leads. 

Faulks has the rare ability to hold the human experience taut on the line, ready for inspection, examining each gleaming scale until veering towards the hypnotic. Then, as quickly as it began he releases, and that which was just a moment ago within reach is gone. At so many points the characters struggle to find their place and purpose in a troubled world. Rather than dwell on the melancholy and frustration of this process, they root themselves in self-observation and the reader becomes privy to considerations so profound and intimate that it begins to feel voyeuristic: “I thought loving someone would make me feel safe. Not precarious. Not balanced on a precipice.” 

Snow Country brings the reader on to this precipice, a vantage point that requires exquisite balance and skill to maintain. The reward is a novel that falls somewhere between Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset and John Berger’s G, but is ultimately its own unique and expansive love story, ambling through decades.