Book review: Snowflake by Louise Nealon

Snowflake is a coming of age story set in Ireland about a young woman called Debbie who is naive, vulnerable and determined. The novel is Louise Nealon’s debut.

Debbie lives on a dairy farm in Kildare with her mentally ill mother, Maeve, who writes down dreams and takes to her bed for long stretches of time. She tells Debbie she doesn’t know who Debbie’s father is. Her mother’s younger boyfriend, James, also lives with them.

When we fall asleep, we go to a place where words dissolve and become meaningless, like rain dropping into the ocean. As soon as rain hits the ocean it is no longer called rain. As soon as a dreamer enters a dream there is no longer the dreamer. There is only the dream.

Debbie’s uncle Billy lives in a caravan out the back of the farm house. He drinks too much but he is also the constant and stability in Debbie’s life. He wants her to have more from her life than the farm. He teaches her everything he knows and pushes her to go to college, which she does, commuting to university in Dublin.

We look at the sky as though it depends on us to hold it up there

At university Debbie is befriended by Xanthe, more sophisticated and worldly than Debbie and fascinated by Debbie’s farm life.

Told in first person, present tense the story rolls through Debbie’s first eyeopening year at university. We experience her relationships with those around her and her relationship with herself. She fears she may share her mothers illness — she dreams other people’s dreams. The exploration of mental illness is handled well and sensitively with humour.

Snowflake encompasses a strong sense of both place and character from which the well paced story emerges. The title of the novel is a nod to, and attempt to take ownership of the term sometimes used to describe millennials who are often seen as oversensitive and lacking resilience.

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