I was ridiculously pleased when it started snowing when I started reading this, it’s the little things these days.
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.
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There is something rather wonderful about finding a book at a time when it will resonate the most with you, I absolutely feel this way about The Snow and the Works on the Northern Line. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting, as I thought maybe this would be very fast-paced and dramatic, and instead it’s like a meander through this snippet of Sybil’s life, but actually that really worked for me.
I definitely connected with Sybil and I think there will be plenty of people who will have been in a similar situation to her, with the sudden breakdown of her relationship or having a colleague that there is some resentment toward, and there is something vindicating (for me at least) about getting to experience her journey and see it come to a conclusion. I have been in that space that Sybil finds herself in where it becomes a little obsessive, where the hurt and the shock manifests itself in a way that other people are not so considerate of but I could also feel myself cringing at points when she started to become a bit more erratic, I enjoyed understanding the emotions from both sides.
There is a kind of underlying tension throughout the book in the form of a task that Sybil is struggling to complete and that starts to amp up as the deadline approaches, I enjoyed as it came to a head and there were a few surprising events that I would not have expected that added a bit more clarity to the story. I also really liked the poetry and haiku’s that were scattered throughout the book and the random words that Sybil writes in her notebook and the found teacup, that made me smile.
This is a lovely subtle character driven book, it captures all the emotion you would expect whilst still remaining fairly light and often humorous, I really appreciated Sybil’s story and some of the quirky characters that came along with it.
As well as having these stops The Snow and the Works on the Northern Line is being read in instalments on BBC Radio Four you can catch up and follow along on this page – https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000r360/episodes/guide
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.