A New Work of Remarkable Insight

By Eoin Meegan

Big thanks to Manilla Press, publishers of the One Dublin One Book 2024 winner Snowflake, by exciting new Irish talent Louise Nealon for sending NewsFour a copy for review. The book has caused something of a sensation since it was first published with Ms Nealon being heralded as the new Sally Rooney. And while I can see the parallels – a socially naïve but intuitively shrewd woman coming from a dysfunctional family in the heart of culchie land, arriving in Trinity College Dublin to study English Lit., with covert, or at least confusing, love interest thrown in for good measure – however, I personally think the comparison with Rooney is misplaced. Both are writers of exceptional talent but with vastly different writing styles. While Rooney has a range and depth Nealon has yet to achieve, I feel the latter conveys an intimacy with her characters more readily. Indeed when I started reading Snowflake it was my fellow country man Pat McCabe that came to mine, and lo and behold, didn’t the very man make an appearance on page 117. Proof of the many strands of literary DNA running through Nealon’s blood. There’s something about the White family (Debbie White is the protagonist of Snowflake) that seems to hover around the edges of barely contained madness, like a dormant Vesuvius that threatens to explode in very disruptive and messy ways. A lot of that is due to the author’s uncompromising embracing of mental illness. Take Debbie’s mother, Maeve, who believes she can dream others’ dreams, and when the humour takes her she goes outside and dances nude in a pile of nettles; then goes off the rails completely when her much younger lover dies tragically; or her uncle Billy who among other things teaches Debbie how to drink (like proper pints and not gin which only makes you cry). Then there’s her kindly piano teacher (and healer) who is shunned because she had the audacity to admit to having a drink problem and seek help. The love interest here is rather non committal, it involves no secret tryst, a la Marianne and Connell, but is summed up as the ‘boy who stands at the back of mass’.  And if you’re around as long as I am you can remember going to mass for the sole reason of getting your peepers on someone you had a crush on.

Nealon, who owns to suffering from mental illness herself, believes there is a great strength in naivety and admitting you don’t have all the answers. She’s right! She deliberately chose the title Snowflake for her debut, a word which has become a peg of convenience on which to hang her entire generation. In doing so she’s reclaiming the word.

One of my favourite moments in the book is when Debbie’s best friend at Trinity, Xanthe (which Debbie first mistakes as Santy), when on a jaunt to Nepal texts her that meditation is a game-changer and she should try it. Debbie’s wry retort: ‘I’ve been meditating on the farm for years. We call it milking cows.’ There are many more moments of brilliance like this throughout the book.

With the TV and film rights for Snowflake having been acquired by Irish production company Element Pictures, who were behind Normal People, you can expect to see an adaptation of it on your screens in the near future.

Snowflake is a work impossible to explain, but a superb tour of love, family, heartache, farm life and tenderness. One not to miss.

Snowflake by Louise Nealon is published by Manilla Press and retails for around €10.