“The snow started falling on September 6th, […] And at the beginning people were happy.” (p.1)
Imagine if it started snowing in September and didn’t stop. As the snow piled up deeper and deeper, how would the World governments react? How long would it take before society collapsed? Adam Roberts explores this scenario in his 2004 novel The Snow, a book which starts well but seems to lose its way around halfway through.
Roberts sets his story in present-day London. The main character is Tira, a Londoner who initially reacts the same way as everybody else. She stays at home waiting for it to stop. But when it doesn’t, she decides to go looking for help rather than waiting for help to find her. From here we follow her journey as she attempts to survive the snow.
There’s a kind of morbid fascination to reading about the gradual collapse of society and Roberts delivers this part of the story in clear, concise prose. There have been comparisons to John Wyndham’s 1950’s novels, but I haven’t read them so cannot comment on this. What I will say is that it feels very British in the way that the disaster is reported, and in the survivors’ reactions. There’s a cool detachment to Roberts’ writing and he keeps it all calm and collected, limiting his focus to a couple of characters for the first fifty pages.
“It was the heat I missed most. I would go for weeks without ever feeling warm. […] I’d be cold when I woke in the morning, and colder when I washed and dressed, and then chilly in my clothes during the day, and in the evening I would slip beneath cold cotton and leaden blankets and shiver myself to sleep.” (p.68)
How society is slowly rebuilt makes for interesting reading. Roberts writes plausibly about the power-politics which quickly surface, and there is a plot thread about terrorism which starts promisingly. But then the narrative suddenly shifts to a lengthy backstory about the origins of one of the terrorists, and we leave the snow and Tira behind.
If it weren’t for the book’s structure, this could easily be mistaken for a completely different story, or even a printing error which combines two separate tales. The book is structured as a collection of interviews, testimonials, and partly-censored government reports, so the reader can at least see the reason for the shift. (I skipped ahead to check whether the story I’d been following continued further on. Thankfully, it did.)
When we return to the main narrative, the momentum of the story is lost. Roberts offers an explanation for the snow but it feels a bit rushed and differs dramatically from the start of the book. The ideas in here are good and his style is always enjoyable to read. It just doesn’t work as a book-length story. I think, with some trimming, it could have made a very good novella.
It’s the first work by Roberts that I’ve felt unsatisfied with; I loved the very original Bete, and am enjoying his short story collection Adam Robots. I also have his latest novel, the highly-praised The Thing Itself, to look forward to. Perhaps I’m being overly critical, or perhaps this book is simply too smart for me. After the promising opening I was expecting more but I think the book’s structure, as well as its ending, does it no favors.