Review: 'A Song of Winter' by Andrew James Greig

RELEASED ON 29 SEPTEMBER // REVIEW BY CRAIG KELLY


From geeky PhD students to an assertive First Minister, a bumbling Prime Minister to ex-military survivalists, A Song of Winter takes us through a disorientating kaleidoscope of perspectives on a world suddenly struck by climate catastrophe. It is a brutal, fast, thrilling adventure that kept me reading into the wee small hours.

Andrew James Greig’s first two novels were classic Tartan Noir, with the first shortlisted for the McIlvanney Prize in 2020. Now he has taken a turn off the beaten track, offering up a novel that self-identifies as an ‘environmental thriller’, but one that, for me, is a worthy and welcome addition to the growing corpus of cli-fi.


When a PhD student’s climate model predicts disaster, Westminster goes into full crisis and cover-up mode; focused on saving the privileged few, withholding information from the public, and even shutting out the devolved governments. The reality, however, is much worse than even the new model predicts, leading to a fast and fierce fight for survival.


A Song of Winter is constructed by an author adept at building tension. After the first quarter of the book, I couldn’t put it down, drawn into the lives of an ensemble of characters that would put Max Brooks to shame. That strength, however, is double-edged. Jumping through so many perspectives takes the reader time to orientate. This results in a slow burn through the opening chapters.


The large cast also throws up challenges elsewhere, not least that it is impossible for the reader to connect with every character. Some appear caricatured, particularly the Machiavellian depiction of nearly everyone involved in Westminster. Yes, it is an institution awash with scandals from Covid contracts to Partygate, but these were generally attempts to cover up staggering ineptitude or severe lapses in morality. In recent times, only Windrush comes close to the realpolitik of Westminster hacks depicted in this novel.


By contrast, the relationship between Holyrood and Westminster seems closer to the mark, with a particularly insightful, and poignant portrayal of the First Minister.


There are few functioning relationships in this novel. Two PhD students who begin as lovers appear to lose all interest in the romantic side of their relationship in direct parallel with the worsening climate catastrophe. It is a stark metaphor for the flippant behaviour that has led us to the brink of environmental collapse.


Even Jess, the former survivalist-turned-teacher, whose relationship with her professor husband, while verging on normality, is shrouded in secrets and lies by omission. Nevertheless, it is Jess’ story that captured my imagination. I found myself willing her on through each difficult mile towards safety, redemption, and reconciliation.


Despite its issues, A Song of Winter is a masterful novel that forces us to confront the realities of the climate emergency, and to question whether we really are doing enough to prevent full-scale climate breakdown. It shines a light onto the greatest challenge of our time with humanity, skill, and glorious tension.

 

A Song of Winter | By Andrew James Greig | 320 pp. | Fledgling Press | Paperback £10.99