Iris is peacefully living the end of her days in Paddington Australia with her daughter and grand-children when she receives a letter from the past. Her friend Violet, to whom she hasn't spoken in decades, is inviting her to Royaumont, France, to commemorate the old abbeye they turned into a hospital during WWI. From this moment, we take an erratic trip to the past, voyagaging through Iris's failing memory.
In Falling Snow is the first international publication of Australian best-seller Mary Rose MacColl and what a novel it is. From the moment I picked it up, I couldn't put it down. I have a soft spot for wartime stories (and historical fiction in general), especially WWI tales but what makes this book special is that it doesn't concentrate on the conflict itself but on the women and the part they played in it. We are reminded of the struggle of women who, even while they were trying to give significant help and play their part, we're underestimated and disrespected because of their sex. Even though this is fiction, it brings an entirely different dimension the events we know from History class.
However, the story doesn't only happen in the distant past, it also covers the present, the Australia of the seventies. Through Grace's story, MacColl shows that despite the improvements, women are still struggling to take their rightful place in society. Not to worry, this is far from a militant feminism book.
Aside from the extraordinary characters, what I really enjoyed from this novel is the narrative structure. Iris is an old woman and so her memory is failing her. She loses sense of time and place, can't recall recent event but remembers those of the past perfectly. MacColl took advantage of this to tell her story in a non-linear way. We constantly move back and forth in Iris's past without ever feeling confused. To emphasis this, she intercuts Iris`s narrative with Grace's, which is clear and linear. The structure is nothing short of brilliant.
Lastly, the ending! I don't want to reveal anything but I have to say that it surprised me a lot. It even brought tears to my eyes, which is a feat– the other book to have ever done so is Love in the Time of Cholera. Just by creating that twist at the end, MacColl made her novel a hundred more times better.
I strongly recommend this book!