... a warm-hearted book: several degrees warmer, in fact, than the work of Sally Rooney, to which it has already been compared ... intimate, chatty, immensely readable. There’s an original and distinctive voice here, and a strong sense of character and place ... a loosely plotted book in which events arise from character rather than from any imposed structure — all the more impressive, therefore, that it’s such a pacey read. Character is Nealon’s great strength. Uncle Billy, with his cluttered caravan and his barely concealed loneliness, is a wonderful creation; but it’s Debbie, so convincingly rendered as a volatile mixture of vulnerability and determination, who most fully engages ... a novel about how it feels to be young, uncertain and troubled; it conjures this condition with honesty and precise observational skill. Nealon has a nice ear for the apposite simile ... Some parts of the book feel a bit undercooked. Xanthe, for example, veers towards caricature at points, and certain narrative threads aren’t fully tied up. Yet this is excusable in a debut novel, especially in one that contains so many riches. Snowflake is an auspicious beginning.
Debbie is smart, self-pitying and self-aware; a mix of naivety and precocity that disguises—just—how at sea she is. To her new Trinity College Dublin friends, she is charmingly 'authentic'”; she knows herself to be far more fragile. This blend of knowing/unknowing is something Nealon exploits cleverly ... The book is full of great lines ... will inevitably gather comparisons with Sally Rooney. But Nealon has her own voice. Her writing is clever, witty, wryly elegant and full of emotional truth.
... one of the most heartwarming, honest and brilliant coming-of-age novels you will read this year ... This novel is a true gift from Nealon, who has embraced wholeheartedly the writer’s credo to write what you know ... Reading it is to lose yourself in reveries about the imperfections of life, the people we love and care for, self-doubt and the pursuit of joy.
... a vivid tale of courage and discovery, of engaging with a world that contains so many interpersonal traps, so many sources of shame, guilt, and self-deception ... Such plot as there is comes to us via conversations. The jokey give-and-take of the craic—and there is plenty of it—lightens the book's serious subject matter ... Nealon keeps us laughing to soften the rawness. And as all is filtered through Debbie's sharp consciousness, we come to appreciate the protagonist's fierce curiosity about how to guide oneself to live in the world.
... subtly debunks the misconceptions around what it’s like to come of age today ... The title of the eagerly anticipated debut already time stamps it into a specific millennial experience. But its playful and considered handling of themes of selfhood, loss, class and mental health illuminates just how fractious that experience is ... She captures with gallows humour the ordeal of seeking help for depression when you barely have the words for it ... Nealon’s portrayal of college life hits close to home in its searing and simple honesty. Although set around Trinity College, it feels less like a Trinity novel à la Normal People. Nealon strips much of the glamour from it ... Enchantment rings through the book and is found in the self-mythologising of the characters, the classical references and the focus on the self and identity ... doesn’t try to be a modern classic, it’s far too focused on being real. At the end, it’s a wholly unique take on what has practically become a sub-genre unto itself – the Trinity novel – like the motif it takes its title from.
Snowflake is well-written: Louise Nealon has the knack of neat similes and though the narrator Debbie is indeed an 18-year-old who can’t cope/won’t cope with the step from school to undergraduate life, she’s also curious, knowledgeable and darkly funny ... The pace is brisk and the narrative has an eye for comedy even when the narrator is enjoying a moment of self-pity ... Everyone in this novel thinks they have real problems – even, in the end, the secret psychologist in the village who can help some of the others – and most of them are right. The ending doesn’t exactly solve anything, but it does assert a joyously unconventional way forward for those broken in heart and spirit ... This isn’t a perfect book; a subplot about prophetic dreams is convenient to the plot but unconvincing, and a thematic emphasis on literal snowflakes doesn’t earn its keep. But Snowflake is much more than the tribute act suggested by its hype. It a sweet, clever coming-of-age novel that finds charity and depth for its older characters as well as the young, and I look forward to seeing what Louise Nealon does next.
Nealon’s account of Debbie’s first experience as a commuter is hilariously astute ... you can tell Nealon is very fond of this concept, and clings to it even when it adds little to the story. It may be an effort to bring a fresh dimension to the coming-of-age story given the recent success of other young Irish female voices. Yet the dreams hover around the edges of the narrative, intruding just when the reader may have forgotten about them, before the concept trails off without any deeper exploration ... much stronger in its study of mental health, particularly the way the novel addresses the silence and shame around depression, addiction and suicide in Irish culture ... This is where Nealon’s clear, unfussy style is most effective: Debbie and Xanthe are part of a generation frequently told they have it easier than their parents ever did, and even Debbie finds it hard to accept that someone from an affluent background like Xanthe could have any serious problems ... Debbie is often achingly naive ... Nealon does a lovely job in tracing Debbie’s gradual understanding of both her own mental health, and her family’s attempts to hide and ignore their issues until it’s almost too late. The depiction of mental illness is raw and often painful, making this not just a sharp, tender coming-of-age story for Debbie, but for the whole cast of Nealon’s characters.
Nealon’s well-crafted debut loses no charm or sweetness for all the difficult things it juggles, including mental health issues, death, grief, and even suicide. Packed with emotion, terrific dialogue, raw and real characters, and spiritual elements, like Debbie’s and Mam’s dreams that seem to predict the future, it also never feels overfull. A genuine, wise, and promising debut.
... fresh and often humorous ... The Dublin scenes don’t particularly stand out from myriad other campus novels, but the narrative acquires a burnishing glow once outside the confines of academe. When on the farm, this tale of two worlds vibrates on an otherworldly frequency.