The Black Snow - Paul Lynch

Genre: Historical Fiction
Synopsis: In Donegal in the spring of 1945, a farmhand runs into a burning barn and does not come out alive. The farm's owner, Barnabas Kane, can only look on as his friend dies and all 43 of his cattle are destroyed in the blaze. Following the disaster, the bull-headed and proudly self-sufficient Barnabas is forced to reach out to the community for assistance. But resentment simmers over the farmhand's death, and Barnabas and his family begin to believe their efforts at recovery are being sabotaged. His teenage son struggles under the weight of a terrible secret, and his wife is suffocated by the uncertainty surrounding their future.  In The Black Snow, Paul Lynch takes the pastoral novel and--with the calmest of hands---tears it apart. With beautiful, haunting prose, Lynch illuminates what it means to live through crisis, and puts to the test our deepest certainties about humankind.


Review: Wow, what a start to my Irish Counties Challenge. I hardly feel worthy to review this novel as I'm pretty sure Paul Lynch utters more beautiful turns of phrase whilst mumbling in his sleep than I can when at my most articulate. Although relatively short, this novel forces you to take your time with exquisite prose that you'll want to savor. Slow moving and not consisting of a huge amount of plot, the flowery writing and gentle pace actually serve to exaggerate the turmoil and devastation felt by the characters in the novel. It took me well over a week to read this book, because I had to take it in short bursts, but despite the dense prose and lack of speech punctuation there is a simplicity to the story and a realism to the characters that makes it easy to pick up and recall everything with ease.

I feel I should probably warn potential readers that this is an immensely bleak book, which depicts the gradual self-destruction of Barnabas Kane and the fallout of that cast onto his family. I sincerely hope, however, that would not put anyone off reading it. There is so much to love about this book, offset as that is by the tragedy it portrays. The characters are so credibly drawn, but more than that, striking is the picture of a rural community set in its traditional ways, stubborn, opposed to newness and change; of conflict caused by the 'local strangers', the Kane family, as Barnabas impinges on community belief and heritage in his attempt to salvage his livelihood from misfortune.

A subplot featuring the Kane son, Billy, is told through diary entries, and while interesting in its own right, is ultimately never solidly tied back into the main story. Towards the end, I thought more was going to be outrightly resolved than actually was - in fact one pervasive question is never answered at all - but this did not detract from the story, which actually shocked me three separate times with dramatic events and, while unexpected, in hindsight it feels like things could not have gone any other way.

A beautiful, heart-breaking story absolutely worth reading.

Rating: 5/5

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