The Snow Queen, by Michael Cunningham, Fourth Estate, RRP£16.99, 272 pages
Barrett Meeks, recently dumped by his boyfriend, sees a light in the night sky, and wonders whether it is a sign from God. His brother Tyler hopes for a musical miracle as he tries to write the perfect wedding song for Beth, his dying partner.
The characters in Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Cunningham’s latest novel are obsessed with regretful “if onlys” and hopeful “what ifs”. They imagine alluring and often perverse alternate realities to navigate the confusing atmosphere of George W Bush-era New York. The Snow Queen, haunted by Hans Christian Andersen’s story of the same name, offers no fairy-tale ending for those “anxiously waiting, hoping for catharsis”.
The novel’s modernist style, with long Jamesian sentences and metaphor-packed internal monologues, is arresting but frequently cumbersome. Reading The Snow Queen is like “waiting for the ship that might – might – arrive”: a tantalising and masochistic experience.
Review by Alexander Coupe
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A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, by Eimear McBride, Faber, RRP£7.99, 224 pages
Eimear McBride’s debut novel, shortlisted this year for both the Desmond Elliott Prize and the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, is most notable, and will be best remembered, as a curious linguistic experiment.
Soul-wrenchingly sad, A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing examines, in a relentless stream of consciousness, a period of several years in the life of an Irish Catholic family. The submission of a young man to a brain tumour is etched, from the perspective of his sister, across 200 caustic pages. Other desperate scenes involve the narrator being repeatedly sexually abused.
The story is told in broken sentences that falter, stumble and collapse. Fragments of thoughts collect like the scattered shrapnel of grief. The effect is exhausting – perhaps deliberately so, given the harrowing narrative. This is a demanding read, but not, perhaps, as radical as its admirers insist.
Review by India Ross