30/12/2003

Sun on Snow (by Alexandra Raife)

I really like Alexandra Raife's books. They're mostly set in Scotland, they're character-based, and they're gentle and often moving.

'Sun on Snow' features Kate, newly pregnant and rejected by her family. She goes to stay at a huge and rather ramshackle house in Scotland called Allt Farr where she slowly gets to know the somewhat unusual family who are living there. While the novel is overtly about Kate's maturity as she learns to deal with many new situations, she herself is a catalyst for changes in the lives of almost everyone she meets.

The book is mainly told from Kate's perspective, and I found her quite easy to relate to. She's a gentle person, with no idea how to cope the enormity of Allt Farr, or the cold of Scotland in winter. She is thrown abruptly from a fairly comfortable, structured lifestyle with adoptive parents who have done all they can to give her a good education, into a more disorganised yet relaxed and caring home.

Her pregnancy seems to be less of a problem to Kate than her parents' reaction to it, since it leads them to reject her completely. Her ongoing battle to come to terms with her past, and this painful repudiation by her parents, makes one of the successful sub-plots to the book. Kate makes several blunders as she gradually learns her way around Allt Farr, and is surprised that her mistakes are accepted with amusement and only the mildest of frustration, rather than the anger or ridicule she would have expected from her parents.

As with most saga novels, there is no single plot-line in this book, although it's overtly a coming-of-age story about Kate herself. The way she reacts to her new situations, to difficulties she suffers, and to the people she meets, all contribute to the believable way in which she's written. Inevitably there's a love story, and it's not too difficult to guess who is going to be the right man for Kate - however it's kept fairly low-key, and isn't really resolved until almost the end of the book.

There is a dramatic climax near the end, cleverly written in a way that made me guess what was going to happen at the start of the relevant chapter (so it wasn't an unpleasant shock), but not the extent to which it would affect everyone's lives. What could have been a tragedy turns out to be the biggest catalyst of all to help each person move forward, rather than remaining stuck in an uncomfortable rut. All the intertwining subplots are neatly sorted out by the end.

At nearly 350 pages, this is a medium-length novel which I finished in three days. It wasn't as deeply moving or gripping as some of Rosamunde Pilcher's, but I certainly found myself caring about all the characters. Parts of the conclusion weren't difficult to guess, but I had no idea how it would be reached.

Definitely recommended to anyone who likes a relaxing and mostly positive character-based novel.

(My much longer review of 'Sun on Snow' can be found at the Ciao site)

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