A middle-aged couple, Mabel and Jack, are about to endure their second Alaskan winter. Far from their families, they are trying to make a life for themselves farming land that for much of the time is either too frozen or too wet. With Jack labouring all day, Mabel is left in their cabin, remembering a lost child and contemplating whether to take a walk across the barely frozen nearby river.
Yet, when the first snow falls, Jack and Mabel are enchanted and for the first time in a long, long while they play together and build with great care a snow girl, complete with red lips, red mittens and scarf and yellow hair. The next morning, the snow child is gone and, when they begin to catch sight of a young girl in the trees, watching them, Mabel becomes convinced that the child is a snow girl, brought to life, just like the snow child fairy tale in the Russian book that she treasures, even though she can’t read a word.
The Snow Child is a wonderful novel. Wonderful. Extraordinarily, it is Eowyn Ivey’s first book, something that is quite incredible as you realise that not a word is superfluous and not a sentence detracts from the beauty of the story and its characters, not to mention the atmosphere of the harsh but magnificent Alaskan setting. As the story unfolds, there is something inspirational and very moving about Mabel’s rediscovery of herself and her husband and her new found love affair with this most beautiful and ultimately giving of environments. As for the snow child herself, there’s every chance that you’ll fall as much in love with her as Mabel and Jack.
I don’t want to talk too much about the story of The Snow Child because the novel’s mystery is entrancing. There are few characters, not surprisingly considering that it is set in such a remote part of the world in a time (the thirties) when deprivation and hardship caused many to give up their dreams and return to the cities. The people who survive in Alaska have to adapt, be able to live off the land and its animals for food and warmth, and must find comfort where they can. The ties that bind Mabel to her husband, neighbours, the girl and even her family back home, are tender and unbreakable.
Eowyn Ivey’s prose is truly bewitching and at times you may catch your breath, smile or cry a little. She has achieved the sophisticated air of simplicity and naturalness while going straight to the heart of her fully-rounded, breathing characters, yet still always making sure that the Alaskan environment is never more than a cabin wall from us, even when we read this novel wrapped up and snug in our homes. It is a marvellous achievement and Eowyn Ivey has a great talent which we must watch in the years to come. The fact that Eowyn lives in Alaska and clearly knows and understands it brilliantly well is apparent in every page.
I’ve read many novels this year but The Snow Child ranks high among them and I don’t think I’m going to forget it. The book isn’t out until February 2012 so I’ll make sure I remind you of it again nearer the time.
Huge thanks to my good friend Liz for the read.