It’s a real pleasure today to share my review of Snow Angels by Jenny Loudon: independently published in February 2020, it’s now available for kindle (free via Kindle Unlimited) and in paperback. My thanks to author for my reading e-copy.
When I reviewed Jenny’s last novel, Finding Verity – which I read two years after publication – I mentioned how it frequently amazes me that some books seem destined to arrive without a ripple only to spend their lives lying just beneath the radar. I only discovered that wonderful book because she contacted me, thinking it looked a good match for my reading tastes – I entirely loved it, and included it in my Books of the Year for 2019. You’ll find a quote from my review on the book’s Amazon page, but you can read the full review again here. And yet again, I find that Snow Angels was published last February, has gathered just seven (excellent) reviews, and I never even noticed.
You’ll know that there are some subjects I’ve tried to avoid since losing mum last summer, but this was a book I really wanted to read. Jenny was good enough to tell me a little about it:
I must flag up that the opening of the novel is sad and the book deals with grief – but it is ultimately a hopeful story about our common humanity and the ways in which we get through hard times and still see the good and beauty in life. In real life, these things take time, but my characters are resilient, caring and, I hope, an inspiration. Without giving too much away, they transform tragedy into a joyful appreciation for what they have.
Thank you, Jenny, for drawing your book to my attention – and your words made me want to read it even more. Let’s see if it’s another book I can recommend to others…
An accident. That’s all it was.
Amelie Tierney is working hard, furthering her nursing career in Oxford. She has a loving husband and a small son, who is not yet two. She jogs through the streets of her beloved city most days, does not see enough of her lonely mother, and misses her grandmother who lives in a remote wooden house, beside a lake in Sweden.
And then, one sunny October morning, it happens – the accident that changes everything and leaves Amelie fighting to survive.
Set amid the gleaming spires of Oxford and the wild beauty of a Swedish forest, this is a story about one woman’s hope and her courage in the face of the unthinkable.
Well, it might only be January, but I have to say that this book is firmly destined to be one of my books of the year – I thought it was simply stunning. It starts gently – a young family living their lives, a happy marriage, a young child (Bertie) who’s the focus of their lives – as Amelie goes out early to pound the pavements of Oxford on a sunny morning. Amelie’s mother Kerstin plans to visit that day, escaping her lonely life – but Amelie needs to complete some work for her nursing course, and cheerfully waves everyone off for a day out at a wildlife park. And then the unthinkable happens… and Amelie’s life is changed for ever.
Her grandmother Cleome lives alone in the wilds of Sweden – a remote cottage, on the shore of a lake, deep in a forest – and Amelie can think of nowhere better to heal herself nor anyone else she’d rather be with. Grieving is a slow process, and the book’s pace matches that – against the dramatically changing seasons, the two women work through their anguish, sometimes experiencing the depths, but also finding moments of joy and lightness in their time together and the love that’s ever present in their close relationship.
Their isolation isn’t complete – there are neighbours and friends, meals out – and the healing process begins. Amelie becomes close to Tarek, a Syrian refugee whose life experiences have parallels with her own – and amid all the beauty of book’s natural world we experience first-hand the prejudice of some of the neighbours to the new arrivals, and their experiences in a country where they’d hoped to find peace, sanctuary and welcome.
There’s far, far more to the story than this – one of the perils of trying to capture a story in a few words – but what entirely blew me away was the way the whole book made me feel. The way the natural world becomes part of the story is quite exceptional, the author’s descriptions entirely transporting you to this alien and unfamiliar environment. We first arrive in the depths of winter – the life-threatening extreme cold, the drifts of snow, the lake (always referred to as “she” – an ever-changing presence) dark and forbidding, the forest impenetrable – and then move into the heat of summer, the ticks and teeming insects, the lake now a place for swimming, the barbecues, feeling the burn of the sun.
Grandmother Cleome – a touch eccentric maybe, with a few secrets of her own, and a quite wonderful character – is entirely in tune with the environment, respecting its magic and traditions, and I thoroughly enjoyed the privilege of being allowed to share the special moments. There are times of absolute ordinariness – Amelie’s cleaning frenzies, walking the dogs, feeding the chickens, the barbecues, the conversations with friends, the sometimes unwelcome intrusions of the outside world – but there are other moments of absolute magic as the natural world plays its part in the long process of healing.
The emotional authenticity is breathtaking throughout – when Amelie hurts, I hurt too, but although the story often moved me to tears I could entirely recognise that ebb and flow of grief. And the relationship between Amelie and her grandmother is intensely moving – this really is a book overflowing with love. And please don’t let me give the impression that the misery is unrelenting, the book is a perfect balance of light and shade – and becomes wonderfully uplifting, a tale of hope and fresh beginnings, the grief and loss never forgotten (as it never should be), but with a real possibility of hope and happiness for the future.
A totally inadequate review, and I’ve struggled to find the words – but I really loved this book, found it totally unforgettable, quite beautifully written, and deserving of so many accolades that as yet haven’t been forthcoming. Very highly recommended – and so many others would love this very special book every bit as much as I did.
About the author
Jenny Loudon is a British novelist whose work includes Snow Angels, a moving and uplifting tale of recovery after loss, and the bestselling love story Finding Verity. She read English and American Literature at the University of Kent in Canterbury and holds a Masters in The Modern Movement. She lives with her family in the English countryside.