An Adult Fiction Read-it-if Review: The Snow Rose…

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read it if NEW BUTTON

If you are looking for something to keep you occupied over the Christmas break – either cosied up in front of a roaring fire or barricaded in an air-conditioned room – then today’s book is definitely one to consider.  I wasn’t sure that I was going to love this one because it’s not my usual sort of adult fiction, but The Snow Rose by Lulu Taylor, which we received for review from PanMacmillan Australia, sucked me in hook, line and sinker.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Kate is on the run with her daughter, her identity hidden and her destination unknown to her husband and family. She’s found a place where she and Heather can be alone and safe, a huge old house full of empty rooms. But it turns out she’s not alone. There are the strange old ladies in the cottage next door, Matty and her blind sister Sissy. How long can Kate hide Heather’s presence from them? And then the newcomers arrive, the band of eccentrics led by the charming and charismatic Archer. Kate begins to realize that she is involved in something strange and dangerous, and the past she’s so desperate to escape is about to find her . . .

snow-rose

Read it if:

*you are a fan of stories that seamlessly blend contemporary and historical fiction in a twisty, intertwined way

*the idea of running away to a beautiful old isolated house sounds like paradise when adulting becomes all too much

*you prefer to organise your holiday accommodation through mysterious, untraceable companies offering employment to single ladies

*the likelihood of you being manipulated by a swindler is directly proportional to the youth, attractiveness, wealth and charisma of said swindler

What an absorbing book I found this to be!  The story turned out to be little of what I expected, but better than my expectations nonetheless.  The first thing you should know about The Snow Rose is that it is not one story, but two (possibly even three, depending on how you look at it) related but separate stories.  The first plotline features Kate, who has run away with her daughter for reasons that are only hinted at in the beginning, but become clear further down the track.  The second, related, storyline features past residents of the house, whose experience appears to be repeating itself with its new residents.  As well as those two main storylines, there are also segues into moments in the present that look to be history repeating, and some focus on the people that Kate left behind when she left.  All in all, this isn’t a basic relationship/finding-oneself type novel, as I expected it might be, but a complex, intricately woven combination of historical fiction and contemporary fiction with a hint of speculative fiction and the briefest of nods toward the paranormal thrown in.

The thing that I found most appealing about The Snow Rose was the fact that Kate, as the main character, seemed to be constantly evolving in her understanding of her bizarre situation and how it came to pass.  At no point was I able to predict how her story would turn out because she is, in some senses, unreliable in her insight into her motivations and the outcomes that she is chasing.  The old ladies that she meets while caretaking at the Big House, Sissy and Matty, provide a balance to Kate’s chaotic situation but also throw in new factors to complicate matters – Are they who they say they are?  What do they actually know about the house’s history?  Can they help Kate find her feet?

I loved the historical sections of the book.  Apart from being an abrupt change of pace from the contemporary sections featuring Kate, the characters in the historical section were so vivid and the events so surprising that I was happy to keep coming back to this time period to see what might happen next.  Like Kate, the main character in the historical plot line, Letty, is also going through some turbulent personal growth.

I suppose there may be some readers of this story who dislike the more bizarre, unexpected elements of it, given that these elements are quite unlikely, but these are exactly what lifted the story above your typical tortured soul story in my view. Kate’s story isn’t predictable.  It is quite unlikely.  There are elements throughout that will have the reader questioning what is real and what is not.  And it’s these characteristics that had me totally absorbed in the lives of the characters.

I’d highly recommend this for readers who want to lose themselves in someone else’s life, because in the coiling plotlines of The Snow Rose, there is plenty of opportunity to do so.

Until next time,

Bruce

OzYA, Cults and Suspending One’s Disbelief: The Boundless Sublime…

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the boundless sublime

The Bounless Sublime (Lili Wilkinson) Published by Allen & Unwin, 27 July 2016.  RRP: $19.99

I have a right little firecracker of a story for you today, gratefully received from Allen & Unwin for review.  The Boundless Sublime is a new YA novel by Aussie author Lili Wilkinson, dealing with grief, abandonment, love, vulnerability and coercion.  I was in two minds about this one while reading it, but on reflection, I think Wilkinson has crafted a clever story here that is most believable because to many of us, it won’t be believable at all. I will explain this contradictory statement, but first, here is the blurb from Goodreads:

Ruby Jane Galbraith is empty. Her family has been torn apart and it’s all her fault.

The only thing that makes sense to her is Fox – a gentle new friend who is wise, soulful and clever, yet oddly naive about the ways of the world. He understands what she’s going through and he offers her a chance to feel peace. Fox belongs to a group called the Institute of the Sublime – and Ruby can’t stay away from him. So she is also drawn in to what she too late discovers is a terrifying secretive community that is far from the ideal world she expected.

Can Ruby find the courage to escape? Is there any way she can save Fox too? And is there ever really an escape from the far-reaching influence of the Institute of the Sublime?

A gripping YA novel about an ordinary girl who is unsuspectingly inducted into a secretive modern-day cult.

Having sat on the shelf of a university undergrad completing a major in Studies of Religion, many moons ago, I have already had an interesting taste of the research that has gone into cults, or new religious movements, as they are sometimes called.  I didn’t realise until I’d seen some reviews of this one that it featured cultish content, but once I did know, I was a bit sceptical as to how the author was going to make this an engaging story without it becoming cheesy and unrealistic.

The book opens on a pretty dour note: Ruby is living in a sort of suspended time with her mother after a tragic accident that caused the permanent separation of their family.  Ruby’s mother is practically catatonic, Ruby can’t find meaning in doing the everyday things like going to school and life generally seems to be a pointless, meaningless black hole.  It is from this viewpoint that Ruby interprets the unexpected kindness of Fox, a young man handing out free bottles of water on the street.  She sees him as beautiful, in an almost otherworldly way, and is drawn to his naivety and his seemingly solid grip on his world.

From here, it is only a matter of time – and the painless severing of a few social and familial ties – until Ruby is subsumed into Fox’s social circle and into a community of “like-minded” souls, and the “cult” aspect of the story really begins in earnest.

This book felt to me like it had a few distinctive parts.  Initially, we see the surly, disconnected and generally unlikable Ruby who is so focused on the guilt, grief and chaos of her life that any other viewpoint seems laughably untenable.  Soon after this we see a bit of insta-love or at least, infatuation, as Ruby becomes consumed with thoughts of Fox and sees him as an almost-saviour from her meaningless existence.  Then comes doubting Ruby, who questions her new situation yet lacks the will to act in her own best interests. I won’t say any more than that because one of the best parts of the book, I felt, is the fact that Ruby goes through so many changes in thought process and personality, that the atmosphere of the story is constantly in flux and we just aren’t sure what will happen next.

A number of reviewers have noted that parts of the story seem so ridiculous and unlikely that they couldn’t suspend their disbelief in order to engage with the stories.  On one level, I can certainly see where they are coming from, becuase there were times during the book that I too was thinking, “AS IF!”  I think that in order to appreciate it fully, one has to come at the story from the point of view that none of us thinks that we would ever be “dumb” enough to get caught up in a cult.  Even Ruby has her doubts and eye-roll moments at the beginning.  Part of the power of cults is that recruitment relies on individuals who are vulnerable, possibly suffering under mental illness or at least mental stress, and in a social position from which it is easy (or even preferable) to disengage – and Ruby fits the bill on each of these counts.  Add to that the fact that she is a teenager, without fully developed reason centres in her brain, and the thought of a clever, attractive young girl getting caught up in such a community – and then being unable to find a way to leave it – isn’t such a stretch.

This isn’t meant to be a factual book about cults – it is fiction, for young adults, with crazy romance, teen angst and all of the other things that typify YA, so in that regard I feel I can cut it some slack in the unbelievability stakes.  If you are prepared to come at it with a bit of an open mind and the knowledge that some events will seem a unlikely, then you will find an unusual and pacey tale featuring action, philosophical debate, love, betrayal, crazy gurus, bald-headed children and a second half that pelts toward the finish.

Give it a crack and let me know what you think!

Until next time,

Bruce