Today I’m reviewing Kerensa Jennings’ debut novel, the literary psychological thriller Seas Of Snow, published by Unbound.
1950s England. Five-year-old Gracie Scott lives with her Mam and next door to her best friend Billy. An only child, she has never known her Da. When her Uncle Joe moves in, his physical abuse of Gracie’s mother starts almost immediately. But when his attentions wander to Gracie, an even more sinister pattern of behaviour begins.
As Gracie grows older, she finds solace and liberation in books, poetry and her enduring friendship with Billy. Together they escape into the poetic fairy-tale worlds of their imaginations.
But will fairy tales be enough to save Gracie from Uncle Joe’s psychopathic behaviour – and how far will it go?
Seas of Snow is very dark in its subject matter and is, in parts, bleak, disturbing, chilling and horrific. However, these aspects are offset by the beauty of much of the prose, which imparts a certain magical quality, and the character of Gracie, the child at the centre of the story. The setting for the early strand of the novel is northern England in the 1950s, when people could not talk as openly about many things as they can today. The plot is cleverly constructed, switching between characters and going back and forth in time, leading to a surprise ending.
We see how Gracie and her single mother try to cope with the intrusion of the psychopathic uncle Joe into their lives. Gracie’s Ma (Joe’s sister) has the support of neighbours, yet seems to be powerless to defend herself and her child. Gracie’s playmate Billy helps her to create imaginary worlds where the princess is rescued, and good triumphs over evil. She also takes refuge in poetry, especially the words of the great poet Rainer Maria Rilke.
Gracie is enchanting, an almost angelic child. In contrast, Uncle Joe is depicted as a callous, brutal man without a conscience, intent on finding and devouring his prey (a raven metaphor permeates Seas of Snow). His motivation and backstory is woven into the plot, and suspense builds as we learn more about the darkness at his core. Fortunately, much of the violence is left to the reader’s imagination. By the later stages of the story though, I admit that I found the unrelenting physical detail of Uncle Joe’s pathology somewhat excessive. This was one of the few negatives I had about the book. (The other, fairly minor, was the vagueness of the timeframe, which led to a haziness sometimes about what month and year it was.)
Seas of Snow is a brave, lyrical, powerful novel that mercilessly and brilliantly dissects the evil at the core of one man, and its impact on those who have the misfortune to cross his path. It is certainly not for those squeamish about violence, in particular sexualised violence. Yes, the novel makes us wonder how a person becomes ‘good’ or ‘bad’. More than that though, it asks to what extent any of us may be complicit in the terrible acts of others.
About the author
Kerensa Jennings is a storyteller, strategist, writer, producer and professor. Her TV work took her all over the world, covering everything from geo-politics to palaeontology and her time as Programme Editor of Breakfast with Frost coincided with the life-changing events of 9/11. The knowledge and experience she gained in psychology has only deepened her fascination with exploring the interplay between nature and nature – the question at the heart of Seas of Snow. Kerensa lives in West London and has a lifelong passion for poetry.
Buy the book
Seas Of Snow is available in UK bookshops and from Amazon (hardback and e-book formats).