Not so magic mountain: Sebastian Faulks, Snow Country

Sebastian Faulks, Snow Country. Vintage, 2022. First published 2021

I went last month to Cyprus with Mrs TD for my brother’s wedding (he lives there: wanted sunshine after years of dreich Aberdeen). I read Sebastian Faulks’s new novel, Snow Country, on the journey there. I’d probably have given up on it after a hundred pages if I’d started it at home.

I read somewhere that this is part of the author’s ongoing project to write fiction that deals with matters concerning the treatment of people with mental health problems. Unfortunately this plays only a peripheral part in what is in fact a historical romance.

The fractured structure doesn’t help with the dragging pace. Part one is set in Vienna in 1914. Anton is not a psychologist, however, but an aspiring journalist. He falls in love with Delphine, a French governess to a wealthy family’s children. When war breaks out she disappears, leaving him bereft and heartbroken.

Then it’s 1927 and a new set of characters abruptly appears. Part three jumps ahead to 1933, to a mountain-top asylum (hence the novel’s title) for (finally) those people with mental health problems. These various storylines and some of the characters come together. But they do so very slowly, and the asylum setting is pretty inconsequential. The inmates/patients appear only in the background; it’s the proprietors and staff Faulks is interested in. The unsubtle echoes of Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain serve little purpose, and come to nothing.

We get a lot of the history of the asylum and the people who founded it; too much, in fact. Faulks’s research is intrusively apparent. The central love stories eventually resolve themselves in ways that could have been deeply moving and satisfying, but somehow they just don’t quite come to life as one would have hoped – it all feels too forced. I felt the author was more interested in the setting and its back story than in these rather insipid characters he’s placed there.

I much preferred the only other Faulks novel I’ve posted on: Paris Echo (link HERE).

England has been sweltering in a heatwave – like most of Europe – this past week. Here in Cornwall it’s usually much cooler, and sea breezes have kept the temperature down. As I write this it’s started raining (with thunder) and it’s more like a normal July summer – but central England is forecast to hit over forty degrees. Hotter than Cyprus!



6 thoughts on “Not so magic mountain: Sebastian Faulks, Snow Country

  1. A writer with a bee in his bonnet rarely does his best work, I reckon.

    We feel for you there in the heat. The temperatures are pretty much what we are used to in the summer, but here in Australia our houses are (mostly) set up for it though we still make it our business to check up on friends, especially if they are elderly.
    But we have had terrible, terrible floods over vast swathes of NSW and Qld, some people have been flooded out four times and the loss of livestock and fauna is dreadful. The world is in a mess.

    • It’s a shame, because I’ve liked some of his earlier stuff. I read about your floods – sounds terrible. We’ve made a mess of this planet, and don’t seem to have figured what to do to reverse the process. I have two nieces in WA, one who used to live in the north, where they regularly had temperatures in the mid 40s. But yes, you guys are equipped to deal with it better than us.

  2. I’m jealous of your trip, though with the way I feel about the heat I might not have enjoyed Cyprus – a bit of dreich weather would suit me…

    As for the book, I’ve never been particularly drawn to Faulks – the only thing I’ve read was a book of pastiches he did, which was enjoyable. So I suspect I will continue to avoid him after reading your review! 😀

    • We coped ok: stayed poolside in the shade with frequent cooling dips or swims in the sea (even cooler). And yes, SF can be a bit hit and miss. I used to like his contributions on a Radio 4 quiz show about books a few years ago.

  3. We’re in the Midlands and were very glad that we had booked a week off a while ago – it was hard enough work keeping ourselves and the cats cool. I’ve read one by him with seven days in London, can’t remember the title, and quite liked that but haven’t really felt drawn to any others.

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