When we left the hotel it was raining, a light, fine rain, as can sometimes happen in Tokyo in October.
Cold Enough for Snow by Melbourne based author, Jessica Au, was the inaugural winner of The Novel Prize, a new biennial award established by Giramondo (Australia), Fitzcarraldo Editions (UK) and New Directions (USA). The novella will be published in February 2022 and translated into fourteen languages. Au’s first novel Cargo (2011) was published by Picador and was highly commended in the Kathleen Mitchell Award for a writer under 30.
Normally, I hold off reviewing an ARC until the month of publication, but this was too delicious and too apt not to write up straight away. Apt thanks to AusReading Month and Novellas in November and it’s deliciousness is something I am very happy to tease you with until you can read it for yourself in February.
I cannot yet share any of the gentle phrases, lovely descriptions or rambling walks that Au takes us on with her narrator and her mother, but I can share the publishers blurb.
A young woman accompanies her mother on a holiday in Japan. The daughter has arranged their itinerary. They travel by train, visit galleries and churches chosen for their art and architecture, eat together in small cafés and restaurants and walk along the canals at night, on guard against the autumn rain and the prospect of snow. All the while, they talk, or seem to talk: about the weather, horoscopes, clothes and objects; about the mother’s family in Hong Kong, and the daughter’s allegiances in Australia.
But uncertainties abound.
How much is spoken between them, how much is thought but unspoken? Cold Enough for Snow is a reckoning and an elegy: with extraordinary skill, Au creates an enveloping atmosphere that expresses both the tenderness between mother and daughter, and the distance between them.
I thoroughly enjoyed every minute with this slim yet compelling story. It would have been easy to gulp this down in one sitting, but I wanted to savour it, spreading it out over several reading sessions instead. I enjoyed all the flashbacks and I loved the time spent walking around Tokyo, playing tourist in art galleries, museums, churches and parks – remembering when we could do such things as well.
Needless to say, it ticked many of my favourite reading boxes.
The setting in Japan, the slightly off-kilter mother/daughter relationship, the childhood memories and the many discussions about life, it’s meaning and purpose all seemed perfectly designed to captivate me as a reader. Au’s writing meandered through time, encouraging the reader to linger over each section. It is only as the story draws to a close that we begin to wonder why we have learnt so little about the mother’s life.
Cold Enough For Snow is a gentle, thoughtful and philosophical novella. In fact, it is probably one of the most perfect novellas I have ever read. It had one central theme (the mother/daughter trip to Japan) and one viewpoint (the daughters). The emotional life of this mother/daughter relationship is explored via flashbacks, memories and present-day moments, building a complex, nuanced picture of their lives.
Robert Silverberg writes in the introduction to the novella anthology, Sailing to Byzantium (2000) that the novella
…is one of the richest and most rewarding of literary forms…it allows for more extended development of theme and character than does the short story, without making the elaborate structural demands of the full-length book. Thus it provides an intense, detailed exploration of its subject, providing to some degree both the concentrated focus of the short story and the broad scope of the novel.
Au has achieved all of that and more with Cold Enough For Snow. Pop this book into your diary for February 2022; you won’t want to miss out!
By the by, just between us, I think the Australian cover design by Jenny Grigg wins hands down!
Title: Cold Enough For Snow Author: Jessica Au ISBN: 9781925818925 Imprint: Giramondo Publishing Published: 1st February 2022 Pages: 108 pages Format: Paperback
- This post was written on the traditional land of the Wangal clan, one of the 29 clans of the Eora Nation within the Sydney basin.