Hidden within the confines of the Royal Institute of Prehistorical Studies, Sybil is happy enough with her work – and her love life. Then to her dismay, her old adversary, assertive and glamorous Helen Hansen, is appointed Head of Trustees. To add insult, Helen promptly seduces Sybil’s boyfriend. Betrayed and broken-hearted, Sybil becomes obsessed with exposing Helen as a fraud, no matter the cost.
Having read the blurb, you would have thought Sybil and indeed the contents of the novel to be quite nasty, as Sybil thought up ways to exact her revenge, I can report that actually it wasn’t. Instead The Snow and The Works On The Northern Line was a quiet contemplative novel, the story of a young women who didn’t quite know how to deal with what life had dealt her.
Sybil herself, seemed older than what she actually was, no night clubs or crazy friends, a quieter life with her then boyfriend Simon and a job steeped in academia at the Royal Institute of Prehistoric Studies. A chance meeting with a past university tutor, Helen, lit the flame for change, a break up and the prospect of Helen’s shadow hovering over her every move at work. I loved how Thomas made us instantly dislike Helen, not merely for stealing Sybil’s boyfriend but her complete lack of empathy, her selfish pursuit of academic fame. Thomas gave us that overriding feeling that her prominent discovery concerning the Beaker People wasn’t quite right, a feeling we shared with Sybil. I liked the quiet way Sybil thought of ways to discredit Helen, never knowing quite what to do, confusion reigning in her mind, perhaps reflective of her mental state. It was a mental state that lived in the doldrums, that saw no joy in the world around her. Thomas made her more and more insular, as she internalised her feelings, her thoughts, withdrew from friends and in some respects her colleagues.
As time progressed small events gradually snowballed within Sybil’s mind, her ability to process and reason, to see clearly slowly overtook before one last tumultuous interaction with Helen. It was an ending that you perhaps didn’t expect but made sense, answered questions and gave Sybil some much needed clarity.
It was the understated, calm manner of the narrative that so impressed, Thomas’s ability to engage and hold your interest, to have no need for sharp, shouty interactions but to let the actions of the characters speak for themselves.
It was a brilliant examination of a young woman’s mental state, of a need to make sense and discover the direction her life needed to take, a novel I enjoyed immensely.
I would like to thank Sandstone Press for a copy of the Snow and the Works on The Northern Line to read and review and to Ceris for inviting My Bookish Blogspot to partcipate in the blogtour.
About the author
Ruth Thomas is the author of three short story collections and two novels, as well as many short stories which have been anthologised and broadcast on the BBC. The Snow and the Works on the Northern Line is her third novel. Her writing has won and been shortlisted for various prizes, including the John Llewellyn Rhys Award, the Saltire First Book Award and the VS Pritchett Prize, and long-listed for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. She lives in Edinburgh and is currently an Advisory Fellow for the Royal Literary Fund.
BBC Radio 4
We’re delighted that The Snow and the Works on the Northern Line is being read on BBC Radio 4 throughout the blog tour! Follow the link below for the episode guide and to listen.