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Philippa Holloway

The Half-life of Snails (paperback)

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'This timely novel, meticulously researched and rooted in a deeply felt knowledge of place, has been a long time in gestation... Holloway’s real brilliance is in the quiet, patient interweaving of two highly charged places and her internalised sense of the invisible damage that radioactive fallout, both real and imagined, does to bodies, hearts and minds.' Helen Grove-White, Planet

'a powerful, evocative novel about landscape, about a young mother living near a nuclear power plant in Wales... It was longlisted for the Ondaatje Prize and I thought it was a terrific book.' Samira Ahmed, Front Row, BBC Radio 4

'The Half-Life of Snails achieves a powerful evocation of both the north coast of Ynys Môn, where Wylfa is situated, and the exclusion zone around Chernobyl. Holloway conducted extensive field research in Ukraine while she was planning this book and her descriptions of ‘the zone’ have a palpable intensity.'  Bobby Seal, Psychogeographic Review

'I was drawn in and held until the final sentences ... a prescient, powerful and disturbing read.' Dr Phil Smith, psychogeographer

'Holloway’s descriptions of the Welsh landscape and the isolation zone around Chernobyl are richly detailed, starkly contrasting lushness and degradation... Holloway is expert at capturing the fear, verging on paranoia, generated by them.' Kirkus

'Holloway’s novel shows us the human story of the nuclear debate. It is both a powerful exploration of personal and social development, and an intriguing insight into arguments about nuclear power.' Morgan Davies, New Welsh Review

'the prose in the novel is often lean, pared-back but nonetheless effective as it maps out the relationship between the two sisters and demonstrates the unbreakable bond between Helen and her son ... the final image of the book is simply heart-rending' Jon Gower, Nation.Cymru

'I don't think this one will leave me, the type of read that exists in the back of your mind ... a cracking and captivating read.' Cheryl M-M's Book Blog

'The Half-Life of Snails is that wonderful thing, a novel that can be read in several different ways. On the surface it is a gripping thriller, ripe for transfer to the big screen. But it also excels as an exploration of the geography of the human heart, which Holloway shows to be as difficult to navigate as the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, for which there is no detailed and reliable map available.' Lunate

'The author has crafted a beautiful yet unsettling story with a strong sense of place, accentuating the bond between humans and the landscapes they live in. The Half-Life Of Snails is a book to reflect on that will undoubtedly linger long after finishing.' Buzz

'The Half-Life of Snails is a gripping story which speaks to a universal anxiety, not just about nuclear power, but about the environment as a whole. It explores the way we respond in crisis, and the things we hold onto most when everything seems under threat. More than that, it captures the genuine love of a family who, despite their flaws, care about one another deeply. A transformative read in a time of heightened complexity and division.' Wales Arts Review

'Holloway has written a novel that shimmers with compassion, one that crosses borders of both nations and emotions. In telling the story of a mother’s love for her son and an intimate, searing portrayal of survival set amidst the Ukrainian Maidan Revolution of 2014, the author has crafted a tale that will linger longer than the half-life of many other books you will read this year. Holloway’s fascination with the intersection of where history meets everyday life has given us a story told with great skill, weaving together the legacy of Chernobyl and the tragedy of human arrogance. She gives us hope that each of us can act with grace and love even in the face of overwhelming disaster and a precarious world. Sadly for us, it is even more necessary for us to hear these stories today.'  Alex Lockwood, author of The Chernobyl Privileges

'A careful, tender and arresting story that explores how we're formed by the places we think we own - I was moved by this suspenseful and delicate novel.' Jenn Ashworth, author of Ghosted


Two sisters, two nuclear power stations, one child caught in the middle...

When Helen, a self-taught prepper and single mother, leaves her young son Jack with her sister for a few days so she can visit Chernobyl’s Exclusion Zone, they both know the situation will be tense. Helen opposes plans for a new power station on the coast of Anglesey that will take over the family’s farmland, and Jennifer works for the nuclear industry and welcomes the plans for the good of the economy.

But blood is thicker than heavy water, and both want to reconnect somehow, with Jack perhaps the key to a new understanding of one another. Yet while Helen is forced to face up to childhood traumas, and her worst fears regarding nuclear disaster, during a trip that sees her caught up in political violence and trapped in Chernobyl’s Exclusion Zone during the 2014 Euromaidan revolution, Jennifer too must discover that even the smallest decision can have catastrophic and long-lasting effects, both within the nuclear industry, and within the home.

And Jack isn’t like other five-year-olds... as they will both discover with devastating consequences.


The Half-life of Snails received a 2nd place prize in the Writers & Artists Working Class Writers Prize 2020.


Alternative Stories and Fake Realities full podcast here.

'Going Nuclear': Philippa Holloway discusses The Half-life of Snails with Holly Porter for Nation.Cymru.

Philippa Holloway in conversation with Zoe Kramer for Wales Arts Review.


Philippa Holloway is a writer and academic. She has won prizes in literary awards including the Fish Publishing Prize and the Writers & Artists Working Class Writer’s Prize. She is co-editor of the collection 100 Words of Solitude: Global Voices in Lockdown, and a senior lecturer in English Literature and Creative Writing at Staffordshire University. @thejackdawspen