Snow Falling on Cedars
Envy is an unattractive characteristic, for some it is a deadly sin. It feeds on itself insidiously, destroying and blotting out reason and sensibility of contentedness. Why is this my starting point for this review? Is it because this novel examines envy from every conceivable angle? Yes, Snow Falling On Cedars explores many aspects of envy, envy of physical possessions, sexual envy, envy of belonging and ethnicity, envy of another’s unstinting resolve and good character. Yes, this is all true, and running with it, as sentence follows sentence and the pages of a long book pass away I also cannot deny my envy of the writing. It is a lengthy read, but not slow, it is graceful without being overly florid, intimate without being prurient. Re-reading the more intimate scenes in particular is astonishing, the sensuality and depth of feeling is uncommon, deeply personal and driven by physical passion yet relatable, they capture so well these hidden moments.
Less intense observations reveal Guterson’s mastery, feelings that are more subtly played out have a realism that reaches into the reader’s own experience, drawing them closer into sympathy with the characters before them.
At the core of this work is Guterson’s marksman like plotting, a structure that holds the book beautifully together like frosted seed heads in a winter garden that die as beautifully as they lived.
The world of San Piedro, where caution and neighbourliness unintentionally shrink the heart, is not stocked with cliched characters, each holds a story, a line of development – just like real people do. Even this tightly controlled universe possesses unpredictability, fault and accident have a role to play alongside prejudice and passion.
Interludes of drama pass and fade between these careful inhabitants, and time casts on its stitches regardless. Here is a tapestry, one to examine and enjoy, one that comforts as well as discomforts and gifts experience outside of the reader’s own possibility and leaves them richer.
Orkney, July, 2018
Books by Gabrielle Barnby:
The Oystercatcher Girl – a beautifully understated story of deception and forgiveness, love and redemption.
The House with the Lilac Shutters and other stories – utterly original story-making of a very high quality.