The narrator of Jessica Au’s slim, spectral novel Cold Enough for Snow is a hungry observer, full of questions about her place in the world ... Au’s novel, written without any chapter breaks, deftly uses stream of consciousness to explore the legacy of inherited family traits and the difficulty of breaking away ... The way that Au injects matter-of-fact descriptions with existential angst reminds me of no writer so much as Albert Camus.
The tenor of the narration is hardly effusive. Yet the effect is of the gentle quiet of snowfall, rather than the lethal frigidity of an icicle ... Au’s is a book of deceptive simplicity, weaving profound questions of identity and ontology into the fabric of quotidian banality ... Nuanced ... Not much happens in Au’s novel...but nonetheless, significant emotions, memories, and thoughts are meaningfully conveyed. What matters, the novel reassures us, is constantly imbricated with the everyday, just as alienation and tender care can coexist in the same moment.
Slim and sly ... The daughter narrates in calm prose that evokes the sound of a rake carefully tracing a pattern in sand. Along the way, she shares a few memories ... From the start, there are signs that mother and daughter are dancing around something. But it’s hard for the characters—much less the reader—to say what that something might be ... Buried secrets and repressed memories are common storytelling devices, the supposed treasures that many atmospheric novels of consciousness use to entice readers. In otherwise loosely plotted narratives, such treasures keep us digging ... At times, Au seems to be encouraging this very approach ... As a reader, it’s easy to feel...that your own brushstroke-detecting ability is being tested. Like most tests, it isn’t exactly relaxing ... That sense of failure—to see sharply enough, to read closely enough—creates its own peculiar form of engagement ... And yet the novel, at its best, also complicates this metric of success, throwing doubt on the inherent value of uncovering what’s hidden ... If we search relentlessly for pentimenti, we risk missing the actual picture ... Au’s novel is perhaps most masterly in the way it evokes our dissociation from desire—our own and other people’s ... In the end, the trip isn’t a bust, and neither is the book that it yields. The narrator may not have unearthed anything dramatic...from her mother’s past, but she has been alive to, and curious about, the present in that particular way ... We are often prone to see other people...as mysteries we can’t help trying to solve ... Cold Enough for Snow understands this impulse, but makes the quiet case for another approach, one that might be more common in life than our novels tend to allow, and that we might simply call, for lack of any more technical term, being together while we can.
The plot is simple; 'deceptively' so, as some reviews have noted: mother and adult daughter visit Japan, see the sights, take in art and food, go home. What we hear of their conversation is quotidian and understated, at frustrating odds with the narrator’s pressing hunger for connection ... What links these apparently undirected reminiscences is a preoccupation with care ... Au’s calm, unrelenting focus would be hard to take over a longer book – but this novella is graceful and precise. Like the narrator fine-tuning the aperture on her Nikon camera, Au seems to say, we have to choose our scale, what we pay attention to. The narrator, hunting for deeper significance, is shadowed by the possibility this choice might just be random ... Melancholy detachment seeps into all this perfect composure – an anxious sense of being outside the moment ... Cold Enough for Snow is filled with meticulous observation ... Au has mentioned her taste for 'subverting narrative expectation … open endings, scenes in which nothing happens yet everything happens'. Cold Enough for Snow is exactly this, a book of inference and small mysteries. The stories, memories and images Au puts on the table escape easy conclusions ... Aesthetic, opaque, endlessly uncoiling.
Fernando Pessoa said you didn’t need to travel to get to know human beings. He believed that it was all in the head. Jessica Au’s second book reflects this ethos ... The larger focus is on the fragmentary nature of perception and identity. It is a book about palimpsests and what, like snow melting, runs together and washes away in the stories we tell ... Although nothing in here purports to be autofiction, it has the elegiac, memoiristic quality of that form’s close antecedent; the Japanese shishosetsu ... Melancholy and elusive ... One of the novella’s neat turns lies in how precisely and matter-of-factly it narrates events that are – as we come to realise – anything but ... There is the sense, too, that as Au cultivates her own voice – one that could belong to no one else; a voice she seems so far to have withheld from us, if not herself – we will see the full emergence of her talent.
Slim, beautifully simple ... The novel’s gentle focus: the recalibration that takes place in a mother and daughter’s relationship during the shift from childhood to adulthood ... By largely doing away with plot...[Au] finds momentum in the closely observed oscillations of a single relationship ... Au’s prose is precise and finely grained ... This makes the occasional imprecision — an unexplained switch in subject, a simile that doesn’t land — feel deflating, disillusioning even. Furthermore, her close narration style and a lack of dialogue give rise to a sense of claustrophobia: what is not being said? My frustration recalled the title: a cold day made tense by waiting for the sky to break ... Relief does come.
Each scene unfolds with a spare elegance, but underneath simmers a sense of unease. Is there something strange with the picture we’re seeing? ... Au wields her words like watercolour, layering depth and dimension to small scenes, her precise details feathering out and blooming with larger intent and meaning. The mother- daughter relationship is still but deep. Intimacy is shown in the small allowances the two make for one another’s personal quirks ... At just under 100 pages, this powerful exploration of family, creation and regret also plays with elements of time and perspective. I finished this book in one sitting, but immediately wanted to read it again, to savour its exquisite prose and tease out its slippery construction ... it deserves to be read by fans of literary fiction everywhere.
Cold Enough for Snow is a strange, slim volume, written in gentle, sometimes graceful, prose ... there’s a sadistic aspect to [the main] character, and her diligent perfectionism proves wearisome ... Generally, with such an unreliable narrator, a reader is at least fascinated by their perspective, or the story itself. Unfortunately, although this character’s mixture of heightened self-awareness and total obliviousness is curious, it’s never quite interesting enough to carry the non-events of the book. Often she’s trite to the point of cliche ... In spite of moments of beauty, what can most truthfully be said of Cold Enough for Snow is that it is inoffensive. It will suit some readers (I think, most certainly, bookish adolescents) while quickly leaving the minds of others. Although it improved upon rereading, in the end it was so understated that it left me unsure as to whether Jessica Au’s writing was subtle to the point of genius, or just a little dull.
Au’s hypnotic debut follows a Chinese mother and daughter during a vacation in Japan ... Despite the simplistic nature of the story, its meandering nature invites the reader to wonder what has really brought these two women together—and whether the mother is there at all ... Some readers will find their patience tried by the vague Tokyo episodes, but Au exquisitely conjures the family’s nebulous past, and is at her best when folding in the perspectives of other family members. Once this probing and surprising text catches hold, it leaves the reader with lingering questions.
Deceptively simple ... Flawed understanding, consolation, and insufficiency all infuse this compelling, unsettling novel ... A beautifully observed book, written in precise, elegant prose that contains a wealth of deep feeling.