Narrator: Claire Danes
Published by Macmillan Audio on May 6th 2014
Genres: Fiction, Literary, Family Life
Length: 6 hrs. 47 mins.
A darkly luminous new novel from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The HoursMichael Cunningham's luminous novel begins with a vision. It's November 2004. Barrett Meeks, having lost love yet again, is walking through Central Park when he is inspired to look up at the sky; there he sees a pale, translucent light that seems to regard him in a distinctly godlike way. Barrett doesn't believe in visions--or in God--but he can't deny what he's seen. At the same time, in the not-quite-gentrified Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn, Tyler, Barrett's older brother, a struggling musician, is trying--and failing--to write a wedding song for Beth, his wife-to-be, who is seriously ill. Tyler is determined to write a song that will be not merely a sentimental ballad but an enduring expression of love. Barrett, haunted by the light, turns unexpectedly to religion. Tyler grows increasingly convinced that only drugs can release his creative powers. Beth tries to face mortality with as much courage as she can summon. Cunningham follows the Meeks brothers as each travels down a different path in his search for transcendence. In subtle, lucid prose, he demonstrates a profound empathy for his conflicted characters and a singular understanding of what lies at the core of the human soul. The Snow Queen, beautiful and heartbreaking, comic and tragic, proves again that Cunningham is one of the great novelists of his generation.
The Snow Queen is Michael Cunningham’s (The Hours) latest release. The Snow Queen is the “it” book to re-imagine these days – just look at Disney’s smash-hit Frozen. Cunningham’s book is not a traditional fairy tale per se but does owe a nod to the Hans Christian Anderson classic with its dreamy, magical quality. The book opens in 2004 in New York with a celestial vision in Central Park. We follow the lives of two men, Barrett and his older brother Tyler, through illness, drugs, religion, love and politics over the course of the novel. Barrett was just jilted by his boyfriend via text, and Tyler is tending to his cancer-stricken girlfriend, Beth. This is my first experience with Michael Cunningham’s work, and I was drawn to listen to this one to hear Claire Danes’ performance. The storytelling is unique and the language is vivid and distinctive, especially as expressed by Danes.
A Fairy Tale in New York – The story begins with Barrett walking through Central Park one evening when he sees the celestial light, right after receiving the breakup text. What does it all mean??
Three’s Company – Brothers Tyler and Barrett live in Brooklyn with Tyler’s fiancée Beth. They are each in a state of flux for different reasons – Barrett’s romantic and career woes, Tyler’s writer’s block, and Beth’s health concerns. Barrett turns to drugs and Tyler to religion as they try to make sense of their lives.
There’s a time and a place – This book covers the political landscape of mid-2000s New York, with the Iraq war, Bush’s reelection and the sliding economy in the background of the trios changing fortunes.
Inspiration – I was reading a Goodreads interview with the author and he said the “snow” in The Snow Queen is more of a reference to cocaine or heroine and actual snow than the Hans Christian Anderson fairytale. Don’t expect a Frozen-esque tale here, Elsa Fans! But if you are very familiar with the fairytale some of the themes in Cunningham’s book may strike a chord with you. And the point is that this book is very much its own story.
The Words – Michael Cunningham – What a wordsmith this author is. Cunningham’s words are beautiful yet distracting, and you have to read between the lines to put it all together. The story starts slow but builds to a surprising crescendo. The language is lyrical and expressive and easy to get lost in.
The Voice – Claire Danes (Homeland, The Hours, and narrator of The Handmaid’s Tale) performs the audiobook, and I’ve been a fan since My So-Called Life and was eager to hear her interpretation of the book. Claire Danes made this novel easier to digest. With the long paragraphs and many parenthetical sentences, I think I’d lose my way in the stylistic text. But Danes makes sense of it all with her performance. Danes gives it her all in her acting roles and this audiobook is no different- she elevates the material.
Check out a sample of Claire Danes reading The Snow Queen:
Read/Listen to The Snow Queen if you like – Literary Fiction, stories about family relationships, and characters in flux, books set in New York, and Claire Danes
Congrats to Brenna who won The Snow Queen audiobook!
- The Snow Queen by Michael Cunningham (independent.co.uk)
- Michael Cunningham re-imagines ‘The Snow Queen’ (sfgate.com)
- The Snow Queen review Michael Cunningham’s poetic meditation on life and death (theguardian.com)
- Books of The Times: ‘The Snow Queen,’ by Michael Cunningham (rss.nytimes.com)