22nd Feb 2012
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
We meet a couple, Jack and Mabel, as they weather the rough Alaskan Winter on their farm in the 1920s and struggle against the loneliness that such a life brings.
A stillbirth, a missed opportunity to give love and nurture, weighs heavy on their shoulders everyday and Ivey focuses on the tense movements and sparse conversations that show the growing distance between them.
One day in a dense blizzard, in a rare moment of playfulness, the two build a child out of snow and dress her like a little girl.
Jack sculpts the snow into ‘perfect, lovely eyes, a nose and small, white lips’- a face like Faina‘s, the blond haired young girl who appears after the show child’s disappearance.
What follows is a story of how a child reinvigorates the lives of Jack and Mabel, but can never quite belong to them.
What I adore about The Snow Child is the landscape that Ivey writes with such authenticity.
She was raised in Alaska and continues to live there, but you don’t need to be told that to sense that she really knows and feels the environment she describes; her portrayal is both thrilling and terrifying.
At moments it is the most oppressive place, dark and dense, and at other moments it is awe-inspiring with natural beauty and light.
This oscillation is shown further in Mabel’s struggle to embrace or escape the place she chose to be home.
The struggle to conquer the land and the giving of one’s self to the land, along with the time period and female protagonist, means that comparisons can be drawn with Willa Cather‘s O Pioneers!, a book that I consider to be a real literary masterpiece.
Whilst The Snow Child is overflowing with fantastic imagery, the characters are not as developed and engaging as I would expect them to be in a novel that expands on a fairy tale.
Mabel and Jack and the supporting cast are pleasing, but often slip into the flatness of recognisable character types, and whilst Faina is certainly more interesting her actions are at times more confusing than they are mysterious.
Ivey intends to keep us guessing with Faina, but personally I wasn’t given enough of her character to engage in the balance of magic and reality that is the tenterhook of the novel.
However The Snow Child is certainly a magical read, and one that you can take particular pleasure in when London is blanketed in snow. No matter that the characters did not tug on my heart strings as I expected; what lingers is the imagery of vast frozen landscapes and tiny perfect snowflakes resting on a young girl’s hand.
Recommended for: An easy read on a Winter’s evening, those who love re-written fairy tales (but don’t expect Angela Carter) and vast, beautiful landscapes.
Other recommended reading: To meet one of the strongest literary ladies around, try O, Pioneers! by Willa Cather.