Snow, the story of Ka, a poet who visits the troubled city of Kars, is narrated from a viewpoint four years after the events. The narration is (intentionally) cold, hazy and distant, as our narrator tries to piece together the events that have befallen poor Ka. The plot is brutal and tragic, centred on death and failing relationships. This isn't an easy read. If you want an uplifting novel, Pamuk isn't your man. But there is a lot to be admired in the way the sense of pathos and loss builds up to a beautiful crescendo.
In places the prose is brilliantly inventive. There is a whole chapter comprising a taped final conversation between a murderer and his victim (it's chilling, because you know how it will end). The alternations between the present day and four years previously work very well. A powerful subplot revolving around a book of lost poetry reflects the mood of the whole novel wonderfully. The reviewer who describes this as "Dostoevsky without a plot" is not so far off the mark, but Pamuk doesn't aim for the richness of characterisation Dostoevsky specialised in. He's more in the business of evocative, symbolic description. His settings are as alive as his characters, if not more so.
Pamuk's cities are achingly beautiful, but they're also creepy, claustrophobic and waiting to knife you in the back. Stepping into a Pamuk novel is at the same time like looking over a glorious panorama and like looking under your bed. In Snow, Kars is brought to life with the skill a Pamuk fan would expect. My only caveat is that it's not as compelling as The Black Book, a stunning evocation of 1980s Istanbul. If you want a full idea of what this sensational novelist is capable of, try The Black Book.