Blizzard by Marie Vingtras

2 Mins read
Blizzard by Marie Vingtras front cover

Translated by Stephanie Smee — As if some of us are not cold enough at this time of year, book publishers seem to delight in choosing January to serve up new reads set in the chilliest climates.

One such is Marie Vingtras‘s remarkable debut, the ominously titled Blizzard, which picked up some prestigious awards when it was originally published in France in 2021. Now out in an English translation, this psychlogical thriller is set in the desolate tundras of Alaska and, you’ve guessed it, a blizzard is raging.

Out into the wind and unremitting snow goes Bess and the young boy she looks after – and on this evidence, it appears that she doesn’t look after him very well. Within minutes, Bess and the boy have been separated in the whiteout. Where is the child? And what on earth possessed her to take him outside in the first place?

Frantically, she begins a fruitless search in tricky terrain made all the more unfamiliar by its unforgiving whiteness. Meanwhile, back at home, Benedict wakes to find Bess and the boy missing. He’s a proud Alaskan, born and bred, who knows the place and its vagaries of weather all too well. Bess, on the other hand, is from California and has the reputation of being somewhat ditzy. He’s understandably worried and sets out after the missing pair, taking along Cole for grudging support.

Who’s Cole, I hear you ask? Well, he’s a man’s man, who prides himself on knowing the terrain like the back of his hand. He is adept at hunting, shooting, fishing and tracking – and as misogynist as they come, with his own style of talking that is beautifully rendered here. Cole is among the small cast of oddities that populate this novel. Add to it Freeman, an ageing Vietnam vet who, like Bess, is something of a fish out of water in the inhospitable place he now calls home – but why choose such a place to live?

Ah, that’d be telling – because every one of the characters in Blizzard has something to hide, and Vingtras takes great pleasure in making her readers wait for each tiny revelation as the narrative shifts from one viewpoint to another, and then another and another. Their tales are disparate, and somewhat desperate. Beth, Benedict, Cole and Freeman – and the boy, unnamed for the majority of the book – each exists in their own little bubble of misery. It’s a clever bit of plot work, which creates a feeling of desolation and loneliness that seeps into every page of this slim novel – just 160 pages.

The page count may be small, but this author works hard to ramp up the tension and make every word count. There is a pleasingly lyrical feel to Vingtras’s prose and kudos must go to translator Stephanie Smee for her work here.

There is very little interaction between characters, which can be revealing but is also at times pretty frustrating. You are forced to take what they say at face value, and just who is being honest here? As a result, the characterisation is fairly broad brush, sometimes teetering on the cusp of caricature, but there are gems of detail to be winnowed out if you’re savvy enough to spot them.

Standing proudly above everything else is the state of Alaska, majestically menacing in all its snowy glory. It’s so well drawn as to induce shivers as you read, wrapped in a blanket, woolly hat and mittens in place and cup of hot chocolate within reach (just me?). Whatever your reading preferences, I’d recommend adding Marie Vingtras to list of your authors to watch.

John Straley is an author with an interesting take on Alaska. Check out Blown by the Same Wind, part of the Cold Storage series.

Mountain Leopard Press

CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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