THE PLOT: “Snowflake” by Louise Nealon is a novel about a young girl from rural Ireland who is accepted into the prestigious Trinity College in Dublin. Intelligent loner Debbie comes from a family of dairy farmers in Kildare. Her mum is eccentric – bathing naked in stinging nettles and scribbling down her dreams. Uncle Billy lives in a caravan down the garden, busy drinking his days away and telling her stories about Greek mythology. When Debbie starts college, which Uncle Billy has worked so hard to afford, she feels out of place. But when tragedy strikes and Debbie starts to believe that she can see other people’s dreams, she worries that she’s losing her mind.
RATING: This novel feels utterly original, which is why I’m giving it four and a half stars. I’m not sure if it’s “literary” or “new adult”, comic or tragic, yet I like its ambiguity. It has a bit of everything but the small scope (in terms of time frame, locations and a small cast of characters) means that the author pulls it off exquisitely. Overall, I’d say the main theme is mental health and it’s portrayed perfectly through each of the characters. From Billy’s alcoholism to her mothers’ eccentricities and Debbie wondering if she feels uncomfortable at college due to depression – each character grapples with internal demons as they try to find their place in the world.
GOOD BITS: Although the tone of the novel is somewhat melancholy, the main character is endearingly humorous. Told in the first person, present tense – the main character’s voice is like Adrian Mole or Georgia Nicholson, a slightly self-centred and self-important teenager. However, the atmosphere of the book is murky and dark, like “Milkman” by Anna Burns. I think this is a very clever device because the novel itself feels like it hovers between genres. It’s as if the book’s very essence is on the cusp of adulthood, mirroring the liminal state of the main character’s coming-of-age.
NOT SO GOOD BITS: The swift conflict resolution towards the end of the book surprised me. There was a tense dynamic between Debbie and her friend, Xanthe, that had been ramping up throughout the novel. The author kept raising the stakes and then it fizzled into a quick “sorry” and done. I know this is realistic but it didn’t feel satisfying to read. This might be basic but I would have been tempted to resolve the conflict by adding another level of external peril. Perhaps Debbie could’ve saved Xanthe from something to start their healing journey.
OVERALL: If you like sarcastic, funny, oddball main characters, I think you’ll like this book. Debbie reminded me of a younger Eleanor Oliphant because she’s witty and independent yet somewhat sweet and innocent. I’d recommend this book to lovers of “Normal People” by Sally Rooney. The chapters are short, the writing style is sparse and the author, Louise Nealon, is undoubtedly talented. I, for one, will definitely read whatever she releases next.