Alaska, the s. Jack and Mabel have staked everything on a fresh start in a remote homestead, but the wilderness is a stark place, and Mabel is haunted by the baby she lost many years before. When a little girl appears mysteriously on their land, each is filled with wonder, but also foreboding: is she what she seems, and can they find room in their hearts for her? Written with the clarity and vividness of the Russian fairy tale from which it takes its inspiration, The Snow Child is an instant classic. This book is lovely.
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A laska: the final frontier? Source of "precious gold" and dreams, as the state song has it, or breeding ground of people like Sarah Palin, who high-five after shooting a caribou for fun? It's all of these, of course, which is what makes America's largest state such fertile ground for novelists, from Jack London on down.
Eowyn Ivey was raised in Alaska and still lives there; The Snow Child , her debut work, is so saturated with wilderness atmosphere that you almost feel you've been there yourself. Her love for the landscape shines through, too. If you look online, you'll be hard-pressed to find a mention of this much-hyped book that doesn't include the word "magical", and it seems calculated to appeal to an audience who like their fiction heartwarming and fanciful.
This is not the romanticised land-of-the-free Alaska of Palin's imagining, but the real thing. It's , and frontier living means building your own log cabin with logs you felled yourself. Mabel, born in Pennsylvania, is facing her second winter up north, and she is wilting in the cold and isolation.
Her only pregnancy ended in a stillbirth 10 years ago, and the brisk new life she had hoped to forge here with her husband, Jack, is still tainted by grief. He, exhausted by trying to scratch a living from the wilderness, barely talks and never smiles. One evening, though, their mood lifts, and the couple play in the newly fallen snow. They build a little snowman, complete with scarf and mittens. Jack takes out his pocketknife and sculpts its tiny, perfect face — a child's face, a girl's.
In the morning, nothing remains but a broken heap of snow and a trail of small footprints leading away. A trick of the light? Suffice to say that a pale little girl in that same scarf and mittens eventually emerges from the forest and comes to play a crucial role in Jack and Mabel's life.
But they have very different ideas about who or what she is, and what she means to them. The best thing about The Snow Child — what sets it apart from genre fiction and keeps you reading — is the way Ivey declines to lay her cards on the table. Are we dealing with fantasy or reality here?
Is the girl magical, or flesh and blood? We're no more sure than Jack and Mabel. Confronted with this strange situation, Jack admits to himself that he feels an "animal-like fear". But it's the endless wilderness as much as the girl that frightens him. Mabel, meanwhile, thinks she may be going mad. Ivey combines all these ordinary, understandable anxieties to create a subtly destabilising effect. She is a careful, matter-of-fact writer, who, thankfully, doesn't resort to unnecessary poetics or artificial ratcheting-up of tension.
This leaves your imagination free to hare off down as many trails as you like. At times you find yourself wondering if poor Mabel and Jack will be sucked into some occult fairyland of deathless ice maidens, Angela Carter-style. Or will they simply buckle down to mending their damaged relationship, bonding over the muddy rows of potato seedlings?
Once you've revelled in these ambiguities, though, there's a problem with The Snow Child : there isn't a lot more to it. Ivey touches on the question of what it means to be a parent — the impossible desire to capture and tame the very thing you must set free — but only fleetingly, with more imagery than depth.
This is pure storytelling, refreshingly ungilded and sympathetic, but little more. It's just as well, perhaps. When Ivey does turn to more literary musings, they come across as pastel-tinted life lessons. Topics Books. Fiction reviews. Reuse this content. Order by newest oldest recommendations. Show 25 25 50 All. Threads collapsed expanded unthreaded. Loading comments… Trouble loading? Most popular.
The Snow Child
Literary fairy tales are fighting back. Don't expect anything fey or sentimental; both novels are as tough as they come. Ivey has chosen Little Daughter of the Snow, a folk-tale first translated from the Russian by Arthur Ransome, as her springboard. Relocated to Alaska in the s, her story starts with Jack and Mabel, a middle-aged farming couple only just making it in weather where giving up the will to live at times seems like a sensible option. They have an awkward but loving relationship yet miss the children they never had. The Faina, a beautiful feral child, shyly enters their lives. Mabel believes that she is the embodiment of a snow child the couple had made previously in a rare moment of leisure and levity.
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey – review
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A laska: the final frontier? Source of "precious gold" and dreams, as the state song has it, or breeding ground of people like Sarah Palin, who high-five after shooting a caribou for fun? It's all of these, of course, which is what makes America's largest state such fertile ground for novelists, from Jack London on down. Eowyn Ivey was raised in Alaska and still lives there; The Snow Child , her debut work, is so saturated with wilderness atmosphere that you almost feel you've been there yourself.