Looking through Bloomsbury's Spring catalogue a month or so ago, l found myself reflecting, in more than usually despondent terms, on the way in which fiction gets reviewed in this country. Seen en masse, books are rather sickly things – especially the sort singled magazine books pages, if not one by David Park or Christopher Kenworthy? Broadly speaking, novels by people one has heard of. Let Joanna Trollope, say, produce a further addition to her teeming œuvre, let Margaret Drabble out for special promotion in publishers' catalogues; but as hotly canvassed item gave way to hotly canvassed item (Sadie Blackeyes' chick-lit debut Bitchpack Confidential, Life Under New Labour, The Kidz Guide to Drugz – I am making this up, but the genres will be familiar to you), I came upon something I very much wanted to read: a novel called The Big Snow by the Irish writer David Park.
Ordered up from the publishers, The Big Snow turned out to be every bit as good as Park's previous novels, Stone Kingdoms (1996) and The Rye Man (1994). It consists of a series of sharply realised vignettes from the Ulster freeze-up of 1963, full of small-town lives knocked out of