Friday, 29 August 2014

Snow Country by Kawabata Yasunari

The train came out of the long tunnel into the snow country. 

A dramatic beginning for the birth of the title. A visual image of beginning that would be suited for a film opening. English teachers will like this line though, as if the long tunnel is a metaphor for something worth spending hours discussing in class. The next line is a weather report:

The earth lay white under the night sky. The train pulled up at a signal stop.

A scene quickly unfolds that feels like it's been cut out of life, raw:

A girl who had been sitting on the other side of the car came over and opened the window in front of Shimamura. The snowy cold poured in. Leaning far out the window, the girl called to the station master as though he were a great distance away.

The station master walked slowly over the snow, a lantern in his hand. His face was buried to the nose in a muffler, and the flaps of his cap were turned down over his ears.

It’s that cold, is it, thought Shimamura. Low, barracklike buildings that might have been railway dormitories were scattered here and there up the frozen slope of the mountain. The white of the snow fell away into the darkness some distance before it reached them.

I like the sparse prose and minimal descriptive style. This minimalism helps to establish tone and mood. The scene pulls one in, but only up to a point; there needs to be conflict to hold interest more than a page or two. Then we get some dialogue, still on page 1:

“How are you?” the girl called out. “It’s Yoko.”
“Yoko, is it. On your way back? It’s gotten cold again.”
“I understand my brother has come to work here. Thank you for all you’ve done.”

“It will be lonely, though. This is no place for a young boy.”

If all we have to go on is the good writing then this will hook, but I like my openings to have character and conflict and this opening dilly-dally's around too much for my liking.

Verdict: Fail

This is part of the series: the top 100 novels from Daniel S. Burt's book called Novel 100, the top 100 novels of all time. There is debate of course as to what should be on that list, but his opinions are as good as any. Snow Country is considered the 85th greatest novel of all time.

Theodore Moracht

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