The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
A bewitching tale of heartbreak and hope set in 1920s Alaska.
Jack and Mabel have staked everything on making a fresh start for themselves in a homestead ‘at the world’s edge’ in the raw Alaskan wilderness. But as the days grow shorter, Jack is losing his battle to clear the land, and Mabel can no longer contain her grief for the baby she lost many years before.
The evening the first snow falls, their mood unaccountably changes. In a moment of tenderness, the pair are surprised to find themselves building a snowman – or rather a snow girl – together. The next morning, all trace of her has disappeared, and Jack can’t quite shake the notion that he glimpsed a small figure – a child? – running through the spruce trees in the dawn light. And how to explain the little but very human tracks Mabel finds at the edge of their property?
If you’re a blogger or a lover of adult fiction in general then you have probably already heard of The Snow Child. It’s been creating a magnificent buzz on Twitter and book blogs for the last few months, and I for one couldn’t wait to get stuck in and see what the fuss is all about!
Inspired by a Russian fairytale called ‘The Snow Maiden,’ Eowyn Ivey’s debut novel is a beautiful and endearing tale of a couple, unable to have a child of their own, decide to make a girl out of snow. But the following day, the snow child is no longer there, and footprints are left trailing into the woods. When Jack and Mabel start seeing a young girl near their home, they begin to wonder where she came from, and if it is even possible that she might be the child they made out of snow.
If you’re a fan of fairytales, I know I certainly am, then you will devour this within a couple of days very easily. It’s down to Ivey’s beautiful yet haunting prose that really brings the snow child herself to life. I adored the Alaskan 1920s setting and this seemed to come very naturally to Ivey, an Alaskan herself. Everything about it felt utterly authentic and completely effortless, and I couldn’t help but feel so much compassion for this heartbroken couple who have uprooted their whole lives to come to this desolate, unforgiving and extremely cold land. With their still-born child weighing heavily on their marriage, you can’t help but feel as though Alaska is their last chance at living some sort of a happy life together, and you will root for them every step of the way.
The Snow Child has a wonderful mythic feel to it as it makes you, the reader, constantly question is this girl in fact the snow child? Or has she merely been imagined by a couple wrought with sadness at the loss of their own. Or she could even be real and belong to some other couple out there in the wilderness. You will doubt yourself over and over again, and this is the beauty and power of the novel. I loved the fact that I could never quite work out what was really going on. But it is Mabel’s unwavering belief in this child that makes you want to believe in her yourself. What it must be like to chance upon a seemingly orphan child, when you so badly want one of your own.
But it isn’t just Jack, Mabel and the child who compel you to keep reading. Ivey has created a wonderful cast of characters in the shape of Mabel and Jack’s neighbours Esther, George and their sons. The youngest son, Garrett, actually became my favourite character of all. A young, extremely independent boy who knows the wilderness like the back of his hand, who can aim and shoot any animal he comes across, who can provide for his family. Over the course of the novel, as Esther and Jack slowly age together, we see Garrett become a man, a man who has a chance at the life Esther and Jack always dreamed of. It’s these subtle moments in the novel that really make you appreciate Ivey’s talent and the characters she has created. Each character feels fleshed-out and real, each with their own personality and back-story. Esther and George’s family help bring a touch of lightness to an otherwise bleak and sorrowful tale, and I couldn’t help but be thankful for them, just as Mabel and Jack are.
As the snow melts each year, the young girl disappears until the following winter. Together, Mabel and Jack must face months on end wondering where she is, whether she is still alive, and whether she will come back at all. The girl has become a part of their family, and it proves difficult to admit that she does not belong in their world. She belongs to the wilderness and the snow. But whether the girl stays or goes, it’s plain to see that she has helped renew their marriage and their love for one another. She has brought joy back into their lives, and helped realise their dream of a life in Alaska, and maybe that’s all they really need.
The Snow Child is a breath-taking debut novel, and I can’t wait to recommend it to everyone I know. However, what I’m really looking forward to is seeing what Eowyn Ivey will write next. This novel is proof that she is definitely one to watch in the coming years, and it will most certainly be a hard one to follow.
The Snow Child has been selected as one of the Waterstones 11 top debut novels of 2012. It is released on 1st February, published by Headline Review. A big thank you goes to the publisher for providing me with a copy for review.
- REVIEW: The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (Guest Reviewer: Booktopia’s Sarah McDuling) (booktopia.com.au)