11 November 2009

The Snow Tourist

Written by Published in Book Reviews

In his first novel, The Favourite Game, Canadian writer-turned-singer Leonard Cohen evokes a powerful metaphor on which his memoirs of growing up in Montreal profoundly hang. When the narrator’s young love Lisa throws herself onto a blanket of snow, the imprint of her body captures the fact that nothing so beautiful, perfect, or innocent can be achieved in the adult life they are about to launch into.

Journalist Charlie English’s search for ‘the world’s purest, deepest snowfall’ is in part a quest for that precious memory of something lost, intrinsic to both the man and his culture. Putting on hold a busy job in London, he leaves his wife and children for one last journey of freedom before the inevitability of settling down. On the journey we learn about snow from multiple perspectives, including snow science, philosophy, history, architecture, sport, religion, literature and painting, and are kept in mind of both the extreme danger and wonder that it holds. Characters such as Wilson Bentley, the Snowflake Man, who first photographed snow through a microscope, and Matthias Zdarsky, the eccentric mountain hermit who perfected the art of mountain skiing, are memorable

Yet at the dark heart of The Snow Tourist is, ultimately, a powerful subtext. In the beginning we learn that the narrator’s talented, snow-obsessed father took his own life. Journey over, at the very end of the book English puts back into a drawer a photograph of his dad and heads off to buy some skiing clothes for a family holiday. It is English’s desire to lay to rest the phantom of his father by finding the memory of him in the remote Alps, or the far reaches of Canada with the Inuit, that is the real quest for the Snow Tourist. Hauntingly, one is left with the impression that he never found it.

The Snow Tourist by Charlie English (Portobello) £8.99

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