Snowstorms and Auroras — a novel by Darshani Buddhika Rupasinghe –, before it de-evolves into a regular, Spark-like love story set in romantic isolation, has a few high points worthy of comment. Specially, the opening sections of the book, I felt, were tangibly powerful with occassional hints of a strong narrative-to be. This is particularly true up to the point where Amelia, the protagonist cum narrator, leaves Sommerville on a near fatal train journey. Her fragmented remniscences, her brooding of death and loss as well as the strength of the narrative — which includes descriptions, syntax and word choice — set a powerful opening to the text. As such, there are moments where the narrative maintains an echo of what one may familiarly encounter in a typical Beat Generation novel; specially, in the line of an early Jack Kerouac book. But, those are still the early stages of Rupasinghe’s work.
However, when the train Amelia travels in meets an accident in isolated, lost Alaskan terrain and is, as its lone survivour, subsequently saved by Kyle Hansen — a man “in seclusion” for reasons of his own — the tone set at the very outset switches track as the project palpably reduces itself as it becomes a predictable romantic love story: a story where the happy ever after is much in sight even while you’re still in the 4th chapter. Rupasinghe releases much of the novel’s energy by doing so, and Snowstorms and Auroras ends in Morocco, where Kyle comes in search of Amelia (as implied) in order to unite with her in spite of his haunting / dubious past; and, that, too, to an uncharted, unnotified spot of open desert to which Amelia had driven that evening to spend the night.
Consistent throughout the novel, however, is Rupasinghe’s fascination with nature and isolation. The protagonists of the novel, Amelia and Kyle, are both “runaways” from a fractured past. Amelia had had a broken childhood where her parents had died in an accident and where she has, since, been “removed” from place to place that she is deviod of a strong feeling for a place she would call “home”. As she confesses to Kyle, the closest she had come to “home” was with her late fiance Andrei, but then, he, too, succumbs to an accident. Amelia, in that sense, is in search of “perpetuity”, while that search — at least, in our scope — is juxtaposed with her movement through natural reservations and havens such as remote Alaska and, later, Moroccan deserts. Similarly, Kyle, too, is a “fugitive”, who runs away from his tormented past: a past punctuated by his fiancee Leanne’s murder and his own avenging of Leanne. Their union in the remotely inhabited North as two individuals who are simultaneously in need of escape and acceptence, therefore, takes off as an emotive love story.
Sections of the novel, set in hardcore Alaskan terrain where sheer courage and dexterity alone stands between nature’s all conquering potency and the individual, strongly reminds us of Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild (1996). This remniscence is sparked off not merely by the descriptions, but equally by the angst and need for renunciation / withdrawal which haunt the narratives of both Kyle and Amelia. However, Christopher McCandless’ narrative has a deep existentialist vibe which is not locatable in Snowstorms and Auroras; possibly because of the different writer objectives represented in each text. Yet, there are several memorable passages that more than indicate a passion for nature, and a sense of solace one believes in that can be thereupon sought. Sections such as the following testify to this effect:
“The sky turned deep blue with time. The silvery gleam of the Even star got stronger by the minute while cool winds picked up. Several miles away from the last post of civilization I sat on a little hill of sand and waited. Gradually a wide array of stars appeared above me from one horizon to the other. I thought of the past, present and future” (210).
“With an insane sense of irony, I tried to enjoy the moment. Distant snowcaps were shining, their bright peaks facing the sky and heavenly bodies beyond. Pine tops were shining with a silver gleam. The night was cold, but calm. The occasional gust of wind shook some snow and ice off the pine branches… Once again it crossed my mind that these might be the last things I see” (20).
Isolated in the Alaskan world, surrounded by wind, snow, storm and nature’s multiple forces, Kyle, at several points, refers to himself as a subhuman: as one who has been drained of human feeling and emotion. This is clearly reflected where he tells Amelia of his life story, when he relates the interlude with little Kevin and Megan. He identifies himself, dogged with the thirst for revenge, as a demonic force, hot in avenging the murdered fiancee, Leanne. This, as Amelia finds out, is in spite of Kyle’s goodness in nature. Two intertexts that come to mind are Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo: the former, owing to the demonic self-resignation to the cold and chilly North; and the latter, due to the “saint-turned-demon” in perusal of revenge and divine justice. In fact, the fugitive Kyle, when he reunites with Amelia, it is as an aftermath — a “return” of sorts — after shunning the garb of revenge, once that end is fulfilled.
Snowstorms and Auroras has a fragmentary interest with psychology which, again, does not develop; or fails to be sustained beyond the surface. The many references to haunting nightmares, harrowing flashbacks and violent recollections do not extend beyond beacons of personal trauma. A fever, in other words, is gagued on the thermometer; yet, the diagnosis is not followed through. At points, the novel lacks vertical depth which, perhaps, is to keep in line with the “romance” aspect Rupasinghe strives to sustain. Kyle carrying Amelia across 20 miles of snow-ridden terrain over two days, for instance, calls for superhuman strength and fortitude. But, these are insertions which I wouldn’t question.