Publisher: Headline Review
Publication date: 30th August 2012 (paperback)
I wrote the review of The Snow Child months ago and for some reason it was never posted. As the paperback is out today, it seemed fitting time to finally publish this!
The Snow Child is the story of Mabel and Jack, a middle-aged couple who left their comfortable lives in 1920s Pennsylvania and moved to the Alaskan wilderness to start a new life, alone. They are trying to escape the grief of having a stillborn child ten years before, but they cannot outrun their sadness and they find themselves growing apart as they struggle with their new life. Jack is working himself to the bone as he battles the elements and the land in his attempts to grow enough food to see them through the winter, whilst Mabel is feeling increasingly trapped in their cabin as she waits for Jack to come home each night.
One evening, as the first snow of their first winter starts to fall, Mabel is overcome with memories of how it was in the beginning of their relationship, how hopeful and happy they both were and she rushes outside. Her sudden joy is infectious and the pair of them build a snow-girl, complete with a carefully carved face and red woollen mittens and scarf. In the morning there is nothing left in the snow apart from a trail of tiny footprints heading towards the woods. When Faina, a tiny delicate girl wearing red mittens and scarf, appears in their lives, they start to wonder exactly where she came from, and if she is even real. Has she been conjured by their longing for a child, or is she another inhabitant of the frozen woods, drawn to the warmth of the cabin like the bears?
I’m not going to say much more about the story itself, except it’s as harsh and beautiful as the writing.* Eowyn Ivey has lived in Alaska for most of her life and she has a simple and stark style which is perfectly suited to descriptions of the vast, unyielding wilderness and the pioneer life that Jack and Mabel are attempting to live. The descriptions of the environment around Wolverine River are terrifying in their bleakness, but also vivid – as someone who’s never visited Alaska, I feel as if I can really imagine the wilderness that confronted Ivey’s characters, which is a testament to the quality of the writing (visiting Northern Norway last year also probably helped a little in terms of huge expanses of frozen land.)
Based on an old Russian fairy-tale, Snegurochka, Ithe Snow Child is a work of magical realism which brilliantly walks a fine line between being magical and realistic. It is also a stark reminder that, despite the common wish to have a ‘fairy-tale ending’, very few fairy-tales have a truly happy conclusion.
*You might need a tissue. Especially you, Mum.
I was sent a review copy but all the views are my own and I wasn’t paid for the review. Actually, someone sent me a copy to my home address, which is a bit of a mystery. Can someone own up please?