Millennials - such snowflakes, right?
October 19th 2021
It’s difficult to hear the word ‘snowflake’ these days without mentally attaching it to the word ‘generation’. The politicised insult picks fun at a supposedly over-sensitive generation of some millennials (and definitely all Gen-Zers) who melt under opinions they don’t like – or really, any sort of difficulty. Rent’s too high, work’s too hard, society is too normative, Brexit has ruined the future – they’re just victims of the gammony right and the system is just so corrupt man…
Whether those wielding the ice-based structure as their weapon of satirical choice are indeed right in their opinions of today’s young or if they are on the other hand simply outrageously intolerant – well, we’re not getting into that right now.
It is curious though. Snowflakes melt easily – granted. But under a microscope, they’re also one of nature’s most extraordinarily beautiful structures. A staggering display of fractal patterns, geometry…they’re quite frankly gorgeous. Nature seems to be saying, Nah, you got nothing on Me, mate. All things considered, it’s perhaps an odd insult of choice.
This is something that Irish writer, Louise Nealon, considers in her brilliant new novel, Snowflake. While we pity Nealon for arriving on the scene at a time when there will literally be no escape from comparisons to Sally Rooney (a fate, it seems, to be endured by any young female Irish writer right now), she’s truly swept us away with her philosophical, shape-shifting wonder of a first novel.
Set on a dairy farm in Ireland, Debbie White is just a normal 18 year-old with a possibly abnormal family. There’s uncle Billy, who lives in a caravan in the garden and likes to stargaze on the roof; and mum Maeve, who looks to record her dreams in spell-binding detail. Anyone with a drop of Irish blood in them will recognise the world that Nealon paints – the pub, the farm, the local boys, the craic. But when Debbie starts at Trinity College Dublin, she’s forced to encounter a different world – of soy lattes and well-constructed sentences. Of people she actually fancies. She’s got some growing up to do in her Dublin life and when family trouble crops up back home, she’s forced to bend so far we wonder she doesn’t break.
It’s a novel about family and the lengths to which they push and pull us; about identity when no one else resembles you; of the difference between sex and love; and about the human mind, in all its glory and delicate fragility.
It’s perhaps the most complex, nuanced and daring novel we’ve seen about so called ‘Generation Snowflake’ and in an era of outrage and black & white headlines, its thoughtfulness is almost bafflingly fresh. Nealon has taken the time to really look at today’s young people and ask: are they snowflakes? Are they ridiculous and privileged? Or are they broken, traumatised and just looking for help? Or perhaps all of these things?
Here’s a taster, from the start of the book as our main character Debbie recalls her childhood on the home dairy farm:
My uncle Billy lives in a caravan in a field at the back of my house. The first time I saw another caravan on the road I thought that someone – another child – had kidnapped him on me. It was only then that I learned caravans were meant to move. Billy’s caravan never went anywhere. It was plonked on a bed of concrete blocks, right beside me from the day I was born.
I used to visit Billy at night when I was too afraid to go to sleep. Billy said that I was only allowed out of the house if I could see the moon from my window and if I brought him wishes from the garden. On the night of my eighth birthday, the sight of a round, fat moon sent me straight down the stairs and out the back door, the wet grass on my bare feet, the thorns of the hedge grabbing me, pulling me back by the sleeves of my pyjamas.
I knew where the wishes hung out. A coven of them grew close to the caravan on the other side of the hedge. I picked them one by one, satisfied by the soft snap of stem and sticky juice of severed end, the bump of one fluffy white head into another. I cupped my hand around them as though protecting candles from the wind, careful not to knock off a single wisp of wish and lose it to the night.
I twirled the syllables around my head as I collected them – dandelion, dandelion, dandelion. Earlier that day, we had looked up the word in the big dictionary underneath Billy’s bed. He explained that it came from the French term – dents de lion – lion’s teeth. The dandelion began as a pretty thing and the petals of its skirt were pointy and yellow like a tutu.
‘This is its daytime dress but the flower eventually needs to go to sleep. It withers and looks tired and haggard and just when you think its time is up’ – Billy held up his fist – ‘it turns into a clock.’ He uncurled his fingers and produced a white candy-floss dandelion from behind his back. ‘A puff-ball moon. A holy communion of wishes.’ He let me blow the wishes away like birthday candles. ‘A constellation of dreams.’
We think this book is startingly brilliant and that Louise Nealon is a writer to watch. But don’t just take our word for it, she’s getting some pretty decent reviews, too:
'Snowflake is a beautiful novel; tender, laugh-out-loud funny, and deeply moving' - Louise O'Neill
'An astonishing achievement. Louise Nealon is ridiculously talented; already I'm greedy for more' - Stacey Halls
'Mad and wonderful. I thought I was reading one thing, then discovered - several times as I read - that I was reading a different, even better thing' - Roddy Doyle
'GAS and beautiful and truthful and touching' - Marian Keyes
Grab your own copy of Snowflake now and see what you think.
Vicki & The LoveMyRead Team x