Author: Eowyn Ivey
Wildly captivating and breathtakingly haunting the debut novel of Eowyn Ivey will hold your imagination in thrall with the perfect symmetry drawn between the Russian fairy tale that inspired the story and Ivey’s own Snow Child.
The book is bound in a blue cover, as was the book of Mabel’s childhood, and printed with a snowy white silhouette reminiscent of books that I can imagine being printed early last century – when this book was set.
Set alongside the Wolverine River, Alaska in 1920 when the area was untamed wilderness and the settlers were fighting nature every season to survive. A time when every battle was hard won and every crop was hard fought. The scenery is stark and vivid with much of the story being told throughout the winter months. You can just picture the pristine snow blanketing the forest, and feel the arctic wind blowing through the gaps in the cabin walls.
Jack and Mabel are an older couple who move to Alaska to find a little peace and quiet, a fresh start in a new life that is all about the two of them. Somewhere quiet where there are no babies crying and children playing to haunt Mabel and cut to the heart of her grief for the baby she lost, away from the family who whisper and judge her for the lack of children.
Panning out over a decade and a half this is a story that builds slowly, like the success of a new farm, the growth of a friendship, and the bond of a family that you choose.
Arriving in Alaska Mabel wants solitude and silence in a world built for two; no neighbours, no family, no friends – just Jack and Mabel in partnership against the harsh climate of the Alaskan wilderness so when Jack embarks on a friendship with the Benson’s Mabel is a little frosty, but soon blossoms alongside her friendship with Esther.
There is an ever widening distance between the couple that Mabel had hoped to diminish with their move, and in all her imaginings things didn’t quite turn out the way she had thought. The joint venture of them working together panned out a little differently and sees the chasm taking them further apart, both of them trapped in their own head and heart unable to express themselves.
The magical first snow of winter brings with it a lighter mood that sees the 50-something Jack and Mabel making a snowman in their yard, a child sized snowman with a beautiful face etched with love, dressed in hand knitted scarf and mittens.
The morning light brings the discovery of the snow child missing, and child sized footprints leading away from the scene….
Is this a case of Cabin Fever as Esther suggests? Is there a logical explanation? Or is it really the magical transformation of snow child to real child of the snow as captured in the fairy tale of Mabel’s childhood?
This is a question that is never completely answered, never settled without a doubt, and remains shrouded in a little magic, a little mystery right up to the closing lines.
Regardless of the answer there is no denying that the entrance of Faina into the lives of Jack and Mabel is a turning point in so many aspects of their life. The beginning of a new chapter that brings heightened awareness, heightened emotion and heightened clarity.
A novel filled with emotional highs and lows, of going to the farthest reaches of civilisation to really get to know yourself, of opening yourself to the possibilities around you.
Ivey captured my heart and my imagination with the mystery surrounding the Alaskan homestead, the magic inherent in every page. A beautiful story that weaves the threads of the original fairy tale through the novel, comparing the fairy tale to what is unfolding before them. And for those who are intrigued by the fairy tale but never come across it there is a telling of the original story in the back of the book.
40 members of our Beauty Chick Chat panel have been reading The Snow Child, find out what they thought below…