In the Falling Snow by Caryl Phillips

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In the Falling Snow by Caryl Phillips

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Louise Laurie
Reviewed by Louise Laurie
Summary: Social worker Keith seems to be having some sort of mid-life crisis. He needs to get back on track, in more ways than one which includes building lots of bridges - with his stroppy son, his estranged wife and his distant father.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: June 2010
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0099539742

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We are introduced to the central character Keith right away and discover lots about him. His personal and professional CV is laid bare before us. He's one mixed up, middle-aged, not-quite-middle-class man. He appears to be rather weak-willed and almost seems to fall into situations, rather than choose to be part of them. When in his marital relationship (now on a downward spiral), his wife most definitely wore the trousers. I found Keith a very infuriating person. I wanted to take him by the scruff and give him a good old shake and then shout 'wake up and smell the coffee, before it's too late.'

You could say that he's doing the stereotypical thing and having an affair with a woman young enough to pass as his daughter. Keith doesn't see any problem here but several family members and work colleagues certainly do. Phillips' style is languid, slow, a bit long-winded in places - just like Keith, in fact. There's a shortish piece at the beginning of the novel which does not show the Polish people living and working here in a very good light.

Keith is, surprisingly, pretty good at his job. He's reached middle-management but he's so laid back that you'd be forgiven for thinking he's the rather mature tea boy. As the story progresses we find out more about Keith and his relationships, most of which are less than successful. He comes across as a rather pathetic figure most of the time. And through his eyes we see, for example, the London teenagers (swearing, rude), we see his estranged wife (making a better life for herself).

But what's at the very core of this book is colour and to a lesser extent class. Keith is black and lower middle-class whereas his wife is white and middle-class. And their son is a total mess. He is a confused young man. He's a problem teenager. Now you could easily say at this point that we've heard all this before - and to a certain extent we have. However, Phillips does come up with some nice, original lines. One which I particularly liked and really stood out was when Keith was thinking about the origins of some of America's music, mainly Motown and describing it as ... the chocolate cities and vanilla suburbs ... I think that description is terrific.

I got the distinct feeling that Keith has some sort of chip on his shoulder. He can be bristly and snappy when others are simply trying to hold a decent conversation with him. Colour issue again perhaps? The conversations between father and son are lovely - lots of moody silences - on both sides.

And then, towards the end of the novel, the whole In the Falling Snow kicks in. The poignant beauty of the book's title is explained along with many dense pages devoted to Earl's (Keith's father) first years as a Commonwealth immigrant to the UK back in the 1960s. It's raw and emotional and it moved me. Earl, even after living all these years in the UK has still not quite mastered the fluency of the language. His story of leaving his beloved homeland and family members for a 'better life' here is told unflinchingly. Did all of his dreams come true? Was it what he'd expected? And I suppose the run-on questions may be 'Is Keith going to fare any better in later life? Is his son?' There could easily be a follow-up novel here. Recommended.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this book appeals then have a look at Bad Penny Blues by Cathi Unsworth.

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