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Book Review – ‘Snowpiercer’

18594683Title: Snowpiercer (#1: The Escape)
Author: Jacques Lob (author), Jean-Marc Rochette (artist)
Genre: Graphic Novel (Sci-Fi)
Rating: ★★★

Snowpiercer is the enthralling and thought-provoking post-apocalyptic graphic novel that inspired the critically acclaimed movie starring Chris Evans (Captain America, Fantastic Four). 
In a harsh, uncompromisingly cold future where Earth has succumbed to treacherously low temperatures, the last remaining members of humanity travel on a train while the outside world remains encased in ice. 
The surviving community are not without a social hierarchy; those that travel at the front of the train live in relative luxury whilst those unfortunate enough to be at the rear remain clustered like cattle in claustrophobic darkness. Yet, things are about to change aboard the train as passengers become disgruntled…” (Goodreads

I think I experienced with Snowpiercer the dreaded “Movie ruined the book for me” thing that all readers experience at least once in their lives. I am a  h u g e  fan of the film. Aside from the fact that one of my favourite actors, Chris Evans, is in it, it also has an amazing premise: the last scraps of humanity travel around the world non-stop on a train, while the world outside is a frozen wasteland. Inside the train it’s all about class – residents at the front of the train want for nothing, while those at the tail barely have enough room to move. There’s rebellion and plenty of reasons to hate humans. Also, it has Tilda Swinton in it. And she looks like this:

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As usual, she’s amazing. But the entire film is full of incredible characters, portrayed to perfection by a cast of truly talented actors. Some characters you’ll hate, some you’ll love, some you won’t be able to decide either way, and one in particular is so awesome that his story would be perfect for a whole other film (if you’ve seen the film, you’ll know I’m talking about Grey).

Naturally when I discovered that the film was based on a book, I had to read it. Then I discovered that book was actually a graphic novel and got even more excited as I’d never read a graphic novel before. I decided that Snowpiercer was to be my very first graphic novel and if the experience was enjoyable, then it would be the first of many.

You’ll be pleased to hear that the experience was pretty great, and I will definitely be reading more graphic novels. The illustrations in Snowpiercer are all black and white, which was I loved as it really suited the bleak tone of the story and made it easy to imagine the characters living in a world devoid of colour, as it is blanketed in white. Visually it’s very striking and the lack of colour also meant that I didn’t get too distracted by the pictures. I’m no aficionado, but I can confidently say that the artwork is amazing and made reading just that bit more enjoyable.

I really enjoyed the story as well. There are some weird and fantastic things like Mama, the slab of synthetic meat that’s alive and the more you cut off it the more it grows back, while the religious fanatics who worship ‘Saint Loco’ were incredibly unsettling for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on. It’s almost completely different from the film (basically the only similarities are the snow, the train, and the class system) so I was kept guessing until the end and it was exciting to see how things would play out. But unfortunately the one thing that made the film so great was sorely lacking in the novel.

That thing was the characters. In the novel we are essentially given two characters to follow, neither of whom I found overly engaging. The main character, Proloff, did little to encourage me as a reader to root for him. As one of the downtrodden tail enders I feel that I should have been wanting him to succeed in whatever it was he was doing, but instead I spent a lot of the time waiting for him to do something. He was very passive. The other character, Adeline Belleau, I found a little more interesting and much less passive – she had clear motives from the start and from the instant we meet her she is taking action.

I wanted to feel invested in the fates of the characters, and I didn’t feel that way at all. Maybe I’m just too used to seeing a motivated hero who wants to make things fair for all, something that Snowpiercer does not have. In Proloff, we see this type of character all but discarded. In any case, it’s easy to see why the creators of the film took artistic license.

There is no denying that the concept initially conceived for the purpose of the novel is an interesting one, and both the novel and the film do an excellent job of conveying humanity at its worst. In current society there are those at the front of the metaphorical train, and the downtrodden at the tail, and it is a source of constant conversation in politics and the media. But speaking in terms of pure entertainment, for me the film is definitely superior and it’s all down to those who carry the story (sorry to devoted fans of the novel).

Would I feel differently if I hadn’t watched the film first? I’m not certain. What I do know is that they should be considered completely separate from one another. While I didn’t love Volume I of Snowpiercer, I will be reading #2: ‘The Explorers’ in the near future, and also #3 which I believe is due for release next year. Fingers crossed I get characters I can cheer for!

Anyone out there read Snowpiercer? Want to change my opinion of it? Let’s chat!

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11 Comments

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  5. Now I definitely want to see the movie! I’ve never gotten into graphic novels but have always wanted to like them. The concept for this one sounds up my alley. I love post-apocalyptic.

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    • If you liked the movie (and really, who doesn’t) the novel is definitely worth a look to see where the film originated from, and it was an entertaining read.

      Really they’re dissimilar enough that they should be considered completely separate from each other, but what reader has ever been able to separate the book from the movie? Pigs will fly first!

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  6. I haven’t read this one, nor have I seen the film (though my boyfriend very much enjoyed the movie), so I definitely can’t help with the comparison part! It can be so disappointing when a fantastic film/mini-series surpasses its source material. Maybe you would have felt differently if you’d read the book first, but it’s also possible that the film creators took the best bits and pieces and made something even better! I know that, as book nerds, we’re loathe to admit that this is even possible, but I think it happens and might have happened here. 🙂 But who knows? Maybe this will change in future volumes!

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    • I hope the next volumes are better. I think because there are no more movies I might be ok!

      The novel is definitely worth a read, but it really is impossible to read it and not compare it to the film (if you’ve seen the film that is).

      But you should definitely take the time to watch the film – it will BLOW YOUR MIND. So good. Really dark and gritty and just basically perfect. There’s not one thing I dislike about it.

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  7. Good morning Heather, first, no I haven’t seen the movie which I will remedy quickly, your review is great! Did you buy the graphic novel in Paris? The French consider graphic novels part of their literary reads.
    I like the picture you posted…so, I’m off in search of movie and graphic novel…

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    • Hi Sylvie,

      I picked up my copy in London, but it was originally published in French as ‘Le Transperceneige’ (I hope I wrote that correctly!). I do wonder whether some of the nuances of the original French are lost in translation – maybe I would have enjoyed it more if I’d read it in French?

      While doing some extra reading for my review I learnt that it was only just published in English for the first time last year (to coincide with the film release), despite it having been in print in French since 1984.

      I can highly recommend the film if you’re into gritty post-apocalyptic films. It’s pretty dark but had me thinking about the world at large today.

      Liked by 1 person

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