In Vienna in 1913, an aspiring journalist named Anton Heideck is shrugging off a provincial, bourgeois background in the most impeccably Viennese way: by listening to Schoenberg and questioning himself deeply. He does these things in the company of Delphine, an older French woman, who, true to her name, appears to be filled with exotic secrets. Anton is besotted and, following his shy pursuit, the two become lovers and he is liberated from doubt and introspection – at least until the war starts and he returns from a working trip to Paris to find that his lover has, in the most Delphic of gestures, disappeared without leaving a note.
Lena, meanwhile, is born to an illiterate alcoholic prostitute. Given basic schooling thanks to a local writer (who helps through a mistaken belief that he may be her father), she is later taken on as a kind of project by a young lawyer who, like many in this novel, is outwardly warm but recoils from intimacy. Embarrassingly rebuffed by him, Lena hides herself in drink and dissipation, before being offered a job at Schloss Seeblick, a sanatorium that was the setting for Faulks’s earlier novel Human Traces (2005). When Anton, now a successful writer but still damaged by his experiences of the war and the loss of Delphine, is sent there in 1933 to research an article on psychoanalysis, he and Lena meet, and the lives of two different but equally lost souls entwine.
Snow Country is not a sequel to Human Traces, despite returning to familiar territory both literal and figurative. Each novel focuses on consciousness and what being human means, but here the academic density does not threaten to crush the fictional framework, as it did in the earlier book. Despite