In the beginning, it was the summers I remembered – long warm days under the palest blue skies, the cornflowers and forget-me-nots lining the road through the Lys forest, the buzz of insects going about their work, Violet telling me lies.
When Iris receives an invitation to attend a reunion in France, she is determined to go. Her granddaughter Grace, a doctor, discourages her. Iris is getting old, and a trip like this might be too much. But for Iris, the memories of the ast are strong, and the invitation has brought back memories of her time in France during World War I when she found herself working in a hospital staffed only by women as she tries to find her 15 year old brother, Tom, who has joined up against his father’s wishes.
Grace, meanwhile, is facing her own battles. A female doctor in a male-dominated hospital world of the 1970s, she tries to balance her career with parenthood and keeping an eye on her ailing grandmother. When her husband suggests there is something wrong with their son, Grace is stunned. Surely he is just different from their daughters?
In Falling Snow is a beautiful, moving dual narrative, telling two seemingly separate stories. Initially it seems the link is simply one of blood – of a grandmother and granddaughter – but as each story progresses there are surprises, and the complexity of their relationship is explored. A second commonality is the idea of women breaking new ground, as it were, with the 1917 storyline showing women playing vital roles in war time, and the more modern tale exploring some of the complexities of being a female doctor in struggling with a male-dominated work place. But what is perhaps the key kink here is the impact of events in the earlier time period on the later one, events and implications which are only slowly unravelled.
There is so much explored in this book that it could easily have become overwhelming – with war, family, motherhood, women’s roles, friendship and more all important themes – but it is so well woven and told through the voice of the elderly Violet and the third person perspective of the younger Grace that it is just lovely.
In Falling Snow, by Mary-Rose MacColl
Allen & Unwin, 2012
Available from good bookstores or online.