Michael Cunningham's luminous, compassionate new novel begins with a vision.
It's November 2004. Barrett Meeks, having lost love yet again, is walking through Central Park when he is suddenly and inexplicably inspired to look up at the sky, where he sees a pale, translucent light that seems to regard him in a distinctly godlike way. Although Barrett doesn't believe in visions - or in god, for that matter - he can't deny what he's seen.
At the same time, in the not-quite-gentrified Bushwick neighbourhood of Brooklyn, Beth, who's engaged to Barrett's older brother, Tyler, is dying of colon cancer. Beth, Tyler, and Barrett have cobbled together a more or less happy home. Tyler, a struggling musician with a drug problem, is trying and failing to write a wedding song for his wife-to-be - something that will be not merely a sentimental ballad but an enduring expression of eternal love. Barrett, haunted by the light, turns unexpectedly to religion. Tyler grows increasingly convinced that only drugs can release his deepest creative powers. Beth tries to face mortality with as much courage and stoicism as she can summon.
Cunningham follows the Meeks brothers as each turns down a decidedly different path in his search for transcendence. In subtle, lucid prose, he demonstrates a profound empathy for his conflicted characters and a singular understanding of what lies at the depth of the human soul.
The Snow Queen, beautiful and heartbreaking, comic and tragic, proves once again that Cunningham is one of the great novelists of this generation.
©2014 Michael Cunningham (P)2014 HarperCollins Publishers Ltd
The intimacy and difficult situations always proposed by this author really deserves a reader that is apparently so bored about what she is reading, and puts all the wrong accents in every situation
I enjoy Michael Cunningham's novels and this seemed even more lyrical and beautifully told than usual - he keeps things focused and simple.
The style and narrative is engaging, although I was expecting more of a fairytale element to the book.
It does loses its way in the last third a little from its strong start, and Claire Danes' narration can jolt you out of the narrative occasionally, but this aside I thoroughly enjoyed The Snow Queen.
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