The Snow Ball by Brigid Brophy

The Snow Ball takes place all in one night as a masquerade ball on a snowy New Years Eve in fashionable London. The book mostly follows Anna, who is kissed at midnight by a mysterious man, but it also takes in her friend and the host of the party Anne, a wealthy woman who is the hostess of the party and a close friend of Anna. And there is also Ruth, a teenage girl who wants to write down every memory of her first ball. All of them have an erotic experience at the party, and the story is also influenced by Mozart’s Don Giovanni.

The book was originally published in the 60’s, and because of the sexual content of the book it was considered a bit controversial at the time. It has a timelessness though that I really liked, it could be written now and something about the masquerade made me feel like I was in a Georgian or Regency time period. The book is rich and layered, though not very long. It’s full of wit and is satirical, playing on social manners, which makes it funny sometimes. It felt very different to anything I’ve read lately. It’s very descriptive, it slows down to much to really focus on texture and feeling of each gesture, each object. It’s almost overly descriptive, but rather than being irritating or pretentious, I found myself slowing down with it, sinking into it all, a bit like a mindfulness meditation. I found it quote calming and relaxing as a writing style. In a way, the book is dreamlike because of fairytale nature of the house and the ball, it feels dreamy, but because it focuses in on minutiae it’s also very practical and grounded. It’s an unusual tone to strike and I liked it.

The characters are quite interesting. Anna is described quite completely, her face like a mask and something she loves to look at. We’re told she’s narcissistic, self obsessed, she engages in long, existential chats with people. She shares a similar name with Anne, the hostess, who has a pure white bedroom, which I was fascinated by. Poor Anne is called an elephant and a lumbering person. So harsh. And then Ruth plays a smaller part, as the teenage girl. All these women are very practical about sex and relationships, not romantic, and it’s kind of funny sometimes. They’re all in different places in life, Anna is a bit jaded but available for an affair, Anne is on her fourth marriage, and Ruth has her first sexual experience. I can’t help but think how down to earth this book is for it’s era. It has a sense of romance, but it’s not romantic.

Brigid Brophy was such an intriguing person and writer. I didn’t know much about her when I read this, but after reading I looked her up. She was a real firecracker, someone who campaigned for workers and animal rights, she was a feminist and appeared regularly on TV in the 60’s and 70’s and stirred up controversy. She may have had a lesbian relationship with Iris Murdoch, she definitely had unconventional (for the time) views on marriage. This book is considered perhaps her masterwork, and I’m really glad that it’s been reprinted, it’s perfect for readers to rediscover.

Read It If: You like literary fiction, Mozart and books you can sink into. It’s a little unconventional, so don’t think it’s a meet cute romance at a ball. Recommended.

Thank you to PGC Books for the copy of this book for review.

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