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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Artificial Snow

Florian Zeller

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To purchase Artificial Snow

Title: Artificial Snow
Author: Florian Zeller
Genre: Novel
Written: 2002 (Eng. 2008)
Length: 119 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Artificial Snow - US
Artificial Snow - UK
Artificial Snow - Canada
Neiges artificielles - Canada
Artificial Snow - India
Neiges artificielles - France
  • French title: Neiges artificielles
  • Translated by Sue Rose

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Our Assessment:

B+ : well-written, but strains for meaningfulness

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 24/1/2009 Alfred Hickling
London Rev. of Books . 12/3/2009 Joanna Biggs
The Observer . 18/1/2009 Helen Zaltzman

  From the Reviews:
  • "(S)lender and strangely mean-spirited (.....) It's written with such staggering arrogance (...) that you wonder if it's meant to be parodic." - Alfred Hickling, The Guardian

  • "Artificial Snow deploys strings of metaphors; they hold the novel together. (...) In Artificial Snow, the impression you get is that Zeller has photographed a Kundera novel: the framing is his, but the elements -- the sex, the digressions, the ennui -- have come from elsewhere." - Joanna Biggs, London Review of Books

  • "(A)side from a few self-referential flourishes it holds up considerably better than the average fellow's juvenilia. Zeller's writing is deft and humorous, enlivening a short novel in the tradition of fiction concerning idle young men whose lives are an elongated, indolent yawn." - Helen Zaltzman, The Observer

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Artificial Snow was Florian Zeller's precocious debut (though only the fourth of his novels to be translated into English), and although almost painfully self-conscious it impresses from the start. This is very well-trodden ground and one can fear the worst -- the brief opening section is dangerously cleverly titled: 'Boring Prologue' --, but Zeller gets the tone of his twenty-something narrator (i.e. himself) right and begins things off very well.
       Yes, it is obviously a self-reflective portrait -- though Zeller toys with that as well, breaking up the image into two: at one point he mentions: "I thought again about the meaning of my surname, Zeller" while also having another character, a close friend of the narrator, named Florian. Florian is: "twenty-one and a bit. Quite a bit." Florian had electrocuted himself when he was ten, and:

It was feared he'd lose the power of speech but, after intensive care, the only after-effects were a fierce desire to write books and a weird hairstyle: his hair seemed to be permanently crytsallised on his head like untidy stalagmites.
       This 'Florian' is clearly another authorial alter ego, but Zeller keeps him at something of a distance. Significantly, Florian abruptly and without explanation backs out of what was meant to be a pivotal encounter, dashing some of the narrator's hopes; 'Florian' and the narrator-with-the-surname-Zeller are kept far enough apart to prevent the picture becoming whole.
       Artificial Snow is a story of unfulfilled love and passion: the narrator had a fling with a woman named Lou and then it ended: "The break-up had been painful but I'd got used to it ". But now he finds himself "catapulted back into the past", completely obsessed by her.
       His efforts to rekindle their romance -- indeed, just run into her again -- don't go well. He wants to seem casual, encountering her at a party or get-together, but things don't work out. There are trivial obstacles -- he misses the last metro, for example -- but self-obsessed as the young man is he sees a whole world conspiring against him.
       Where Zeller sets himself apart is in the carefully thought out self-obsession, as, for example:
Watching the metro pull out of sight, I realised very matter-of-factly that life was completely getting away from me. Certain strange phenomena, like missing metros, were a daily occurrence, but their root causes remained obscure. In my heart of hearts, I wasn't desperate to understand them. Man only survives life by regularly eschewing the next level of comprehension.
       The narrator shifts between adolescent swooning and acting-on-a-whim, and more mature analysis; he's given to self-reflection but obviously troubled by what he sees if he probes too hard. He obviously still needs to 'find himself', not sure enough of his own identity or secure enough in his own skin -- very obviously so:
Several times I'd passed a face virtually identical to mine in the street. The idea that I might not be unique after all was pretty unpleasant.
I sometimes felt like a stranger to myself, as if I were letting myself float on some calm, relaxing, unknown sea. I regularly forgot the features of my own face, then recalled them as one might remember a trivial detail, a remote fact frustrating the urge to forget. At times like this I was surprised to be the person I was and not someone else. Was I an individual ?
       Zeller's semi-detached approach resembles that in the fiction of Milan Kundera and Alain de Botton, and when he is at his best -- and there are some nice stretches here -- it is compelling and convincing. It is easy to fall into the trap of being to self-aware (and -conscious), but Zeller hits the right note often enough here, and even when he states the obvious does it nicely:
I'd wanted to be famous, me too. I'd wrongly thought I was suffering more than other people, for the simple reason I could feel my own suffering and not that of others. And this superior suffering implied, I fancied, a splendid, chaotic destiny. But I spent more time inventing this destiny than building it; I was trapped by a hope that employed me part-time and often took the impossible form of demanding achievement. With the result that a little later, largely through cowardice, I'd abandoned these plans to fall back on small pleasure within easy reach.
       Even the sour notes ring true, as when the narrator complains to a young boy that: "Life's a con" and proceeds to try to disillusion him about Santa Claus (Father Christmas). Afterwards he admits: "I would have liked to delete this sorry story. Recapture the sweet pleasures of life before". But disillusionment is par for the course, and can't be done away with.
       Not surprisingly, Artificial Snow's weakness is its story, as Zeller doesn't have enough of one. The thoughts are all there, the mood and what he wants to convey -- beginning with the brilliant epigraph, attributed to Shakespeare: "Where goes the white when melts the snow ?" -- but all that cleverness can't cover up the fact that he doesn't, ultimately, have enough to go on. The love story is uneasily balanced between the adolescent and the adult -- and the narrator perhaps still too focussed on self to pay enough attention to another -- at least the kind of attention literary treatment requires.
       Ultimately, Artificial Snow is something of a failure, but it wasn't that far away from being a great book; as a debut it is very impressive, dripping with potential (though that's lost on English-speaking readers, who likely will have encountered Zeller's later books first). It stands in particular contrast to Zeller's more recent Julien Parme a competent but disappointingly safe book, in which Zeller goes out on none of the limbs he does here.
       Flawed, but worthwhile.

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Artificial Snow: Reviews: Other books by Florian Zeller under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Florian Zeller was born in 1979.

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