For my sins I have the Friday the 13th (morning) slot of the Seas Of Snow blog tour, which celebrates the paperback release of the debut novel by Kerensa Jennings. So here’s my review of this startling, beautifully written and hard-to-categorise novel. This review was first on my blog on 18 April 2017.
In the interests of full disclosure:
a. I’ve met Kerensa several times and have found her to be a wonderful person
b. Our debut novels are both published by Unbound – hers by the allsingingalldancing version aka @Unbounders and mine by the fine chaps at @Unbound_Digital.
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 a haunting, psychological domestic drama that probes the nature and the origins of evil.
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.
Kerensa Jennings is a storyteller, strategist, writer, producer and professor. Kerensa’s 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 by qualifying and practising as an Executive Coach has only deepened her fascination with exploring the interplay between nature and nurture and with investigating whether evil is born or made – the question at the heart of Seas of Snow. As a scholar at Oxford, her lifelong passion for poetry took flight. Kerensa lives in West London and over the last few years has developed a career in digital enterprise.
IN HER OWN WORDS…
“I’ve been writing stories and poems ever since I was a little girl. Although it’s taken me a long time to get around to writing a book, I’m lucky enough to have had a long career in the media as a TV producer, writing television programmes. Most of the time viewers would have had no idea who I was, but my words have informed, educated and entertained millions over the years. I produced, directed, wrote for and worked with some of the most amazing people including Nelson Mandela, Sir David Frost (I was Programme Editor of Breakfast with Frost), Sir David Attenborough, Fiona Bruce, Sian Williams, James Nesbitt, George Alagiah and Rory Bremner. I moved away from programme making to strategy and became the BBC’s Head of Strategic Delivery where I designed and delivered strategies for the Corporation, including a significant digital strategy (BBC Make it Digital). I now run The Duke of York Inspiring Digital Enterprise Award.
I’ve always used literature, and poetry in particular, for solace and escape. I happen to think literature is probably the best self-help on the planet! You can fly into other worlds and find ways through writing to make sense of life. SEAS of SNOW draws together some of my passions and fascinations in life. While I was at university, I studied the psychoanalysis of fairy tales and got very interested in archetypes and the way characters and stories of good and evil are portrayed.
While leading the BBC News coverage of the Soham investigation, I had the opportunity to see first-hand a lot of evidence about the mind and motives of a psychopath. So in SEAS of SNOW, the protagonist Gracie uses poetry and playtime to escape the traumas and abuses of her life; the antagonist, her Uncle Joe, is a bad man, a psychopath; and there is a subtext of fairy tale underlying the page-turning scenario which hopefully makes you want to read while half covering your eyes.”
Social media links
Buy the book
Amazon UK: bit.ly/AmUK-SeasofSnow-KerensaJennings
Amazon US: bit.ly/AmUS-SeasofSnow-KerensaJenning
Check out the SOS Blog Tour
Well done for making it all the way down to here (yes, it’s a long post!)