“Snow Country” by Sebastian Faulkes
Sebastian Faulks’ latest novel is based in Austria, with three specific time periods forming the structure of this good story.
Anton Heideck arrives in Vienna as a student, with ambitions of becoming a journalist escaping the restrictive life of his Styrian home town where his elder brother is always the preferred son, though he alone was still expected to join his father’s sausage making business. Anton’s early life is formative, though it is his close friendship with Friedrich, who also moves to the capital, that is a presence in his later life. It is in Vienna, after graduating, where he meets French woman Delphine, and his life is for ever changed, and he comes out of his shell as their love blossoms. His career also begins to flourish, with interesting storylines about the building of the Panama canal, and a French government scandal to add to the readers enjoyment, but it is now 1914 and events overtake their lives.
The novel moves forward to 1927, and we are introduced to Lena, a lone child. Though her troubled, drunken and promiscuous mother had her siblings adopted, she kept Lena, who grows up wondering about her father, a man called Stefan from Trieste. She does meet him once, he is always in the back of her mind as she also moves from her small town to Vienna following a young lawyer, Rudolf Plischke who she had met in the hospital where she had been working. Their relationship is strained and she eventually moves back to work at the Schloss Seeblick a sanatorium where she does find companionship, and becomes a valued member of the staff, leaving the disappointments of her life in the Austrian capital behind her.
The final strand of the novel is set in 1933. Anton again becomes a central figure in the story when he is sent by a paper to write an article about the Schloss; here their paths meet, Anton as guest, Lena as waitress and a staff member. It is also where Rudolf also reappears as an adviser to the management of the Schloss, and it is the history, and the founders of the sanatorium that transport this novel from just a story of love lost and found into a more substantially fulfilling read. The other characters within the Schloss, particularly Martha Midwinter, a daughter of one of the founders, enhance this part of the story as Sebastian Faulks brings the strands of his novel together. The various main protagonists meeting, then as their lives move forward after the Schloss back into the maelstrom of Vienna, a politically explosive city as the post war depression fuels unrest.
Sebastian Faulks is a great storyteller, and here he is on good form. “Snow Country” is very readable, the story-line enhanced by extra strands and sub-stories that improve the readers enjoyment and in no way distract from the main plot.