Saturday, 21 May 2016

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

Book Review

Review of The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey - Reading, Writing, Booking

Spellbinding, Enchanting, Magical. These are just a few words that have been used to describe Eowyn Ivey's The Snow Child (Headline Review/Tinderpress). It does have a definite fairy tale quality, something deliberately included by the author as it is based on an old fairy story, yet there is also a seam of harsh realism running throughout the book.

It's the story of Mabel and Jack, a middle-aged couple in the 1920s who have moved to an Alaskan homestead for a new life. But they can't escape their sadness over the baby they lost and their life in the wilderness threatens to be too much for them to handle.
In a brief moment of happiness in their hard life they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow is gone but a mysterious human child is roaming their land. Is she real? And can she help them find the new start that they're looking for?

As I said, mixed in with the mythical style of the book are some very real feelings, especially those of Mabel and her yearning for a child that she'll never have. The realism stops the book getting too sickly and sweet, while in counterbalance the fantasy stops the grim reality of the book becoming too much. Though it's a close call sometimes. While I wouldn't exactly call this a 'weepy' it is quite heart-rending in parts and when I finished it I felt exhausted. Not the sort of tired feeling you get after reading a fast-paced action thriller where you're practically panting, but as though you've been through a wringer of emotions and you have no energy left.
Sadness. That is something that's underlying through the whole book, sometimes in the background, but always there.

I'm aware that this description might not make people jump to read it but it is a good book and definitely one that draws you in. Despite the sadness it does also imbibe you with a feeling of succeeding despite the odds and taking what happiness you can get from the moment while you have it.

I must admit that at first I wasn't that keen on the main characters, especially Mabel who seemed a bit too deliberately pathetic.
But this changes as you continue to read and they are actually well-rounded, with flaws and vices. As they struggle they become more human and likeable. Although it is called The Snow Child it is really about this couple's relationship; how they interact in the life that they didn't plan for but now must live.

The character of 'The Snow Child' is a mystery from the beginning and remains so all the way through. I think if I had read this when I was a bit younger I would have wanted to be her; running around snowy countryside with a fox at my side. Hell, maybe I still do.

The scenery is a character in itself; it is incredibly brutal yet at the same time beautiful. The stark background is the perfect setting for this tale of longing, isolation and family.

The book (my edition anyway) has Arthur Ransome's The Little Daughter of the Snow in it, his retelling of the Russian folktale Snegurochka or The Snow Maiden. This is the story that the book is based on and Ivey explains how his book led to her writing her own: "Without Mr Ransome, I never would have created my own snow child."

A good read, though not an easy one, I would definitely recommend The Snow Child. It's the first novel from Eowyn Ivey. Her second, To the Bright Edge of the World, will be released in August. It's definitely going on my to read list.

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