Inner Snows

Anne-Sophie Subilia

French, Éditions Zoé, Chêne-Bourg, 2020

“Now the last flowers are damaged by the slightest shower and there are no more mosquitoes. But since when? Everything is becoming fragile. The plants are petrified. I start to feel scared at how hazy my memory is. The days are a blur. What if this were the sign of some new deficiency in me? That’s why I must carry on writing.”

A diary kept by one of the four members of an expedition along the Arctic shores, Inner Snows by Anne-Sophie Subilia plays on the sharp contrast between the vast wilderness of the tundra and the stressful, forced intimacy of communal living aboard the sixteen-metre yacht, Artémis. Whereas the natural environment inspires awe, the real power struggle develops between the members of this expedition as they are brutally forced to confront their weaknesses and secret fears.

The title, Inner Snows, encapsulates the two tropisms that bookend the narrative: the external icy wastes of the Arctic as opposed to the sixteen-metre Artémis, home to the six crew members – four landscape architects, the captain and his assistant.
Presented in the form of a logbook, loosely moored but extremely precise in its detail – ‘Just to say that I’ve lost track of what day it is, but I’m going to ask the others’ – Anne-Sophie Subilia’s novel alternates between interior scenes – being holed up on the boat – and exterior landscapes, the great Arctic wastes. The only constant is the cold, the thread that links these two extremes, be it the glacial temperature of the fjords or the lack of warmth in the personal bonds the characters struggle to form.

The cramped conditions make for challenging communal living. When the narrator leaves the privacy of her ‘sarcophagus bunk’, she inevitably has to cope with the presence of the others, their smells and their contempt. Tall as she is, the proximity of her fellow crew members routinely brings her up against the ‘fortress’ of bodies, making each individual’s solitude even more palpable.
In reaction to these tensions on board, Anne-Sophie Subilia’s pen seeks to capture the immensity of the landscapes of the Far North. The frozen wastes offer the space that is lacking aboard the Artémis and which the narrator roams during stopovers that are both harrowing and awe-inspiring. Running, literally, gives her rare salutary breaks that enable her to shake off the toxic atmosphere of the boat and to throw herself bodily into the landscape.

The task of the explorers sailing on the Artémis is to study the land use and architecture of the indigenous communities. The detailed descriptions and precise notes, the depictions of shapes, colours, crags and contrasts are the natural extension of a gaze focused on examining the landscape. The narrator’s attention however is continually absorbed by the hostility of relations on board, and by her own difficulty in carving out her place among this improvised crew, battered by the elements and the experience of living at such close quarters.

Text by Valentin Kolly

Neiges intérieures
Éditions Zoé, Chêne-Bourg
Translation rights
Laure Pécher, Agence Astier-Pécher,
Publication date
January 2020


Anne-Sophie Subilia

Born in 1982, Anne-Sophie Subilia studied French literature and history at the University of Geneva. In 2010 she met Kenneth White in Montreal. In 2013 she was awarded a Master’s degree in literary writing by the Bern University of the Arts. A member of the AJAR collective, Anne-Sophie Subilia is the author of Jours d’agrumes (Citrus Days, published by l’Aire, 2013), Parti voir les bêtes (Gone to See the Animals, Éditions Zoé, 2016; Arthaud poche, 2017) and Neiges intérieures (Inner Snows, Éditions Zoé, 2020).

Photo: Romain Guélat © Editions Zoé