Staff Review: Cold Enough for Snow

Cold Enough for Snow
By Jessica Au
Review by Bel
This tiny book is a big deal. It recently won the inaugural Novel Prize, which means it published in the US, UK and Aus/NZ simultaneously. This offers Melbourne writer Jessica Au a huge audience, and the world is taking note, with great reviews in the New Yorker, the NYT, Harper’s and the Guardian.
In this atmospheric novel, an unnamed protagonist seeks to understand her mother while they’re on holiday together in Japan. Through their shared experiences on the trip, she tries to find points of connection, and we get the sense her mother is keen to do the same, but there’s a fumbling disconnect to their interactions that keeps getting in the way. There’s a subtle, aching poignance to what lies beneath these understated moments. There’s also philosophical musings on art, on yearning for a place in the world, and on the search for truth in both the past and the present.

The deceptively simple plot leaves space for the reader to think and infer meaning. Au grants us the intelligence to draw our own conclusions and fill in the blanks, which is so rare and enticing. We pay attention. We listen carefully and read hungrily for cues in the characters’ stilted but tender conversations.
For me, this is as close as reading gets to meditation. There’s a fluid clarity in Au’s prose, in her protagonist’s meticulous observation of the world and careful study of her mother. Layers of meaning and misunderstanding refract through this novel like light through a prism. It’s sophisticated and profound.
I loved it and will read it again. Great for fans of Rachel Cusk, Jhumpa Lahiri and Siri Hustvedt.