A comforting tale set in Japan
The Readings Prize was announced on October 26 and already there’s a stand in the Carlton store devoted to the winner Cold Enough For Snow by Jessica Au.
Au, of Hong Kong descent, lives in Melbourne and the novel reads like her memoir.
A striking feature of the genre that she practices in this book is to delete identifying details.
Melbourne is called “a city” and the names of people and places in her life are replaced by the nominative case.
To put the prize into Au language: a studious writer has won a literary prize awarded each year by a discerning bookshop.
This distancing mechanism creates a poetic that is charmingly free-floating and suits the rather formal mood of the novel.
It also won a prize from the publishers against 1000 entries worldwide.
Cold Enough For Snow heralds its meditative style on page one with a sentence about the rain: “It left a fine layer of water on the ground, which was not asphalt, but a series of small, square tiles, if you cared enough to notice.”
The narrative deals with authenticity and the weight of society’s expectations on a mother and daughter travelling in Tokyo.
The daughter is an atmospheric narrator who goes to some trouble to select paths through the city to please her mum.
“I took us by a route along the canal, which I thought might be nice at that time of evening.”
Her mother has grown older and is not as enthusiastic about discovery as her daughter. Her favourite place is a small store in a passage where she can buy gifts for her grandchildren.
Au is an accomplished storyteller and Snow is no mere travelogue but a method for including tales that range in content from her sister’s search for love in Hong Kong, her own striving to be conscientious, and her partner’s pretensions.
All in all, the narrator’s strivings are moving. She wants to be honest about her own feelings but has too much respect for the customs of others to provoke.
When a diner in a café oversteps the mark, she acquiesces as she does to her partner’s taste in DVDs.
The issue is not about having the courage to be herself but in taking herself too seriously, according to her partner.
She is frugal with language and dreams of the day of being able to say more.
When her mum comforts her with curry and rice after a day’s wet bushwalking, no more words are needed.
Cold Enough For Snow, Jessica Au, Giramondo Publishing, 2022. •