First published in 2013, the premise of the novel appealed to me immediately. In 1978, an elderly widow named Iris Crane, who lives in a quiet part of Brisbane, is invited to a World War One reunion in France, and is quickly ‘overcome by memories of the past’. As a young woman, Iris travelled to France at the start of the First World War, following her younger brother, Tom, who joined up and left home. Her intention at first is solely to bring him back to the safety of Australia, but she soon finds herself working at a field hospital at an old Abbey in Royaumont. She is tasked under the capacity of being a personal assistant of sorts to the sometimes formidable Miss Ivers, merely due to her competence in French.
Part of the present-day story which runs alongside Iris’ memories deals with her granddaughter, Grace, a doctor and mother of three. Interestingly, Iris’ tale makes use of the first person perspective, while Grace’s is told by an omniscient third person narrator. This technique worked well to break up the plots and different generations of characters, but Grace’s portion of the plot did also feel rather detached in consequence. I found myself far preferring Iris’ part of the story; whilst Grace’s had some interesting elements within it, it seemed a little lacklustre, and I could not make myself like her as a person. Some of the decisions which she made did not seem at all rational for an educated woman in her position, and she did not come across as a believable protagonist. The only character whom I felt endeared to in In Calling Snow was Grace’s young son, Henry; for the most part, he felt like a realistic construct. He was also the least predictable of MacColl’s creations, and I believe that this helped towards my liking him.
There is real strength in some of MacColl’s prose, but the conversations let it down somewhat for me. They did not feel quite balanced, and at times were either unnecessary or unrealistic. Some of the descriptive phrasing was nice enough, but a lot of the prose lacked depth, particularly given the emotion which should have been packed into every page of such a novel. I was reminded in part of Kate Morton’s work in In Falling Snow, both in terms of the dual storylines and familial saga aspects of the plot, but I do not think that MacColl quite pulled off the story as well as Morton could have done. I did find a couple of discrepancies within the plot too – with regard to Henry’s age, for example.
I really liked the general premise of In Falling Snow, but it fell a little flat for me. Some elements were perhaps not executed as well as they could have been. The denouement was also quite precitable. Iris’ gradual memory loss was handled sensitively, however, and I admire MacColl for being able to put this element of the plot, and her sympathy for Iris’ situation, across so well.