Fleeting Snow by Pavel Vilikovsky (Translated by Julia & Peter Sherwood) - review by Donald Rayfield

Donald Rayfield

Losing Lienka

Fleeting Snow


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Pavel Vilikovský’s novel is a miracle of origami: an extensive and elaborate narrative unfolds from a very slim volume. The reader may be dismayed at first to learn that each chapter (often just a page long) bears a number from one to five, followed by a letter. Each number represents a thematic thread – life, language, love – and the accompanying letter indicates the order in which the chapters are to be read. The concluding chapter is allotted all five numbers. The suggestion (which few readers will take up) is that you can follow or discard any numbers you like and still keep up with the novel’s intrigue and apprehend its denouement. Equally disconcerting is the title: not until halfway through do we understand that Fleeting Snow is a reference to unmelted snow in shaded mountain clefts and a nod to the novel’s leitmotif of an avalanche, sweeping away the mind in dementia, languages in depopulation, love in habituation, and so on.

At first, the novel’s self-sufficient chapters are reminiscent of back-page reflections in The Guardian magazine in the days when they were written by Clive James and Howard Jacobson: satirical wit and autobiographical snippets, intertwined with memento mori. Gradually, however, the plot surfaces: the narrator, who has adopted a new name

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