Hauntingly beautiful and highly moving, Kawabata's 'Snow Country' is arguably his finest novel. 'Snow Country' is the story of Shimamura, a married man from Tokyo, whom travels sporadically into the Snow Country of the title, to visit Komako, a geisha he believes he loves. Kawabata's evocation of the largely unspoken, troubled love between Shimamura, who is forever a traveller, in this remote, traditional region of Japan, and the sensitive, but unpredictable alcoholic Komako, is breathtaking in its honest, complex and commendably unsentimental portrait of the apparent hopelessness for a truly happy love, between the two. Kawabata's depiction of the landscape is also one of the novel's highlights, a land he portrays with both a piercing realism, and also with an eye for its incredible, sometimes harsh, natural beauty. 'Snow Country' is a novel packed with images of the landscape which surrounds the couple, yet they compliment the quietly pained relationship of Shimamura and Komako, instead of ever getting in the way of it.
Although this is a text which focuses on tradition, Kawabata's writing techniques are often innovative and rather modern. The novel's often imperceptible shift between time frames, locations and conversations, heightens the sense of fragmentation both lovers feel, as well as Shimamura's shifts between location, and between memories - common for the traveller. There are no serious faults in 'Snow Country', which is an extremely rare thing for a novel - but if I were to have to highlight one misstep, it is fair to say that a few of the conversations between the couple are a bit too dull and repetitive; even if they do portray successfully, a kind of frustrated stagnation, in their relationship. However, to focus on this is akin to focusing on one errant brushstroke in a wonderful painting. Mesmerising, strange and yet utterly engaging, and gorgeously evoked, Kawabata's 'Snow Country' is one of the finest novels of the 20th century.