on 10 February 2012
Mabel and Jack cannot have children. They move to Alaska to start a new life, one without the pressures of polite society. However it is not easy, the farm work is hard for her husband and money is tight. They struggle to survive the dark, cold winters and start to move apart. One night, as the snow falls, Mabel is overcome by a childish urge to make a snowman, no, a snow child. She gives it mittens and a hat and Jack carves a beautiful face in the ice. The next morning, the snow child is gone, but there is a trail of small footsteps leading into the woods.
The Snow Child is a retelling of a Russian fairy tale, Snegurochka, Little Daughter of the Snow. Moved to the wild and isolated Alaskan frontier in the twenties, it beautifully describes the land, the snow and the hardships of making a living there. It does have a timeless feel to it, although mod-cons such as internet, air travel and daylight lamps have made living there much easier now, you get the sense that not a huge amount has changed.
It still retains the feeling of a fairy tale though, perhaps this will not be to everyone's tastes but I loved it. It is not fast paced, and it did seem to slow a little in the middle, if you tire easily of descriptions of snowy winter wonderlands and characters doing little but farming or hunting wild animals, you may struggle. The writing carried me through and I must admit to being fond of snow - we don't get enough of the proper stuff here. The snow is so central to the book, it brings playfulness and beauty but also danger and cold.
The speech between the snow child and the other characters is lacking in quotation marks which added to the doubt of her existence or realness. When she is not present, the quotation marks return (thankfully, because I lose track without them). This side of the story reminded me of Raymond Briggs' The Snowman and I kept expecting her to melt away to nothing.
After I'd read The Snow Child, I had a look round at other reviews and one reader criticised it for implying that all it takes is a child to make women happy. I'll admit, I'm also annoyed by books that take that view but I don't think this is one of them. It is not set in the modern day for starters and there was still the expectation for women to have a family. Mabel left behind her old life precisely to escape the peer pressure of society and the awkward conversations. Understandably she grieves the loss of potential motherhood, it is something she wanted for herself and near the end it explains the reasons for her wanting a child. They are simple and something that at the time, only a child could really fulfil. But it is not the snow child that cures her depression. At the start she waits at home all day waiting for her husband to return, her only responsibility is to cook. She feels useless and the long, dark nights of an Alaskan winter will cause depression in even the hardiest souls, let along with no distractions. She slowly comes out of her depression when she makes friends, socialises and starts doing tasks that make her useful and takes her mind off her previous life.
As I turned over the final page, I looked out my window. Our first snowfall had arrived. Magic.
With a nod to Russian folklore, Eowyn Ivey's debut novel is truly a thing of beauty. In the 1920s, middle-aged couple, Mabel and Jack, up sticks and move to Alaska, hoping to flee the heartbreaking memories of their still-born child. How can this vast, bleak landscape possibly fill their empty hearts? Hope comes with the appearance of Faina, a quasi-feral child who brings equal amounts of joy and sadness into their once barren lives as she flutters in and out of their home.
The writing is so evocative and atmospheric, it's hard to believe that this is a debut novel. We see the crisp beauty of the wild Alaskan landscape which can be equally cruel and bountiful. We see real folk trying to carve out a decent living against all the odds, clinging onto the slightest glimmer of hope.
Eowyn Ivey has spun a spellbinding, haunting story, skilfully blending fantasy and reality. Throw another log on the fire (virtual or real!) and be transported to the Alaskan wilderness through this captivating tale.
on 18 February 2012
My husband gave me this book for Valentines Day.
I picked up the book and didn't put it down for 5 hours. It was 3am when I decided to stop reading it.
A middle-aged couple with no living children, move to Alaska to start a new life after a stillbirth, there they encounter the Snow Child. A child who lies somewhere between reality and fantasy and the story tells the tale of joy and worry she brings to their lives.
It beautifully written, astoundingly emotional and some of the themes at least are close to home. I recently suffered the loss of my only child, and the deep desire to have a family is so difficult when suffering from infertility. I feel the emotions expressed in this book are so honest and so true to what I feel, that I spent half the night in tears. Unless you have been in that situation, losing a baby and having infertility, you can never understand that NEED, that yearning desire to have a family, the only thing missing from life, the ever traumatic memory of your child that died.
I feel the harsh reality of their lives in Alaska, represents the harshness of a life without the one thing they obviously want so much - children, and she brings help and happiness in more than one way, making their lives better in so many ways.
This haunting tale will stay with me a long time.
on 24 May 2012
This is a difficult book to review as it's simply not the kind of book which I would usually be enthusiastic about. You might wonder why I picked it as my Audible download of the month, in that case, right? Well, the blurb intrigued me and the cover enchanted me. I had hopes of a haunting narrative, evocative of old, dark fairy tales. What I got was something different.
Ivey creates a phenomenally beautiful sense of place and it is evident that she is intimately familiar with the Alaskan wilderness she describes. The detail given to the surroundings was definitely my favourite aspect of the story. However, I felt that the characters weren't nearly as vivid. I have a suspicion that Ivey did this deliberately as the lack of colour given to either Jack or Mabel was indicative of their ailing relationship.
Jack and Mabel move to Alaska to start anew and to escape their old, childless life. But the move isn't the cure they had hoped it would be. Instead their lives have grown dismal and silent. It is only when the little girl, Faina, enters their lives that things begin to look up.
This is one of those books which is going to get four or five stars from a whole bunch of reviewers. It's beautifully written... but in my opinion, it was also slow. Actually, it goes further than that; I think it was dull.
Very little happens for about seventy percent of the novel, and when things do happen they happen slowly. Until the very end. The last few chapters of the book felt rushed and desperate to me, as though Ivey just wanted to be done with it. She added a third point of view, she skipped about six years in a leap, she seemed to forget all about the themes of hope and grief surrounding Jack and Mabel. After building a story around two characters, I had little/no emotional connection to Faina and Garrett. Their story, to me, felt like a grasped straw.
I am definitely in the minority. This book is elsewhere being described as "gorgeous" and "magic" and "heartbreakingly beautiful". While I do agree with these sentiments on some level, I prefer books with a bit more pace and action.
This is a nice book, it's just not my cup of tea. Therefore, I'm going to give The Snow Child three stars.
Before I start my review I want to point out that this isn't the kind of book I usually read so perhaps that would explain why I didn't love it quite as much as so many others have. I did still like the story but it didn't wow me the same way it did most of my friends who have read it. The story is based on a Russian fairy tale but it isn't one that I was familiar with so I won't be making comparisons between them.
Set in the 1920s The Snow Child tells the story of Mabel and Jack who move to Alaska hoping for a fresh start. They married late in life and after suffering a still birth they were never blessed with more children. It isn't easy to settle into life in the wilderness, the harsh weather makes for difficult living conditions and life is more lonely than they were expecting it to be. When the first snow arrives the couple build a snow child but the next morning their creation has disappeared. Strangely there are tiny footprints walking into the woods and Jack is sure he spotted a small child in the forest. As the couple slowly get to know the almost feral child who appears to live on her own in the mountains they also find themselves settling into their new life. They are happier than they have been in years and even begin to make friends with their neighbours.
The story is beautifully written and so descriptive that you feel like you've stepped into Jack and Mabel's world. In fact every time I stopped reading to glance out of the window I was surprised not to see snow! Eowyn Ivey has really captured the harsh beauty of the Alaskan wilderness, it's not an easy place to survive thanks to the fierce weather conditions but there is a pure beauty about it that makes you long for more simple times and want to be at one with nature. This is one of those books where the setting is the main character and it was the one I was most connected to.
My problem was that I never really felt I got to know Mabel and Jack well and I didn't feel invested in their story. Whenever I picked up the book I enjoyed reading it but when I put it down it was easy to be distracted by other things and I never felt compelled to pick it up again. The fact that it took me 8 days to read the book (even though I read 6 other books during the same period and I'm someone who never usually reads more than one book at a time) shows that. Like I said this isn't the kind of book I usually read though so don't let me put you off giving it a try. It was still an enjoyable read and I think anyone who likes this type of story will love it.
on 14 June 2012
I have to admit, I bought this book partly because of the beautiful design (I know, I know, never judge a book by its cover!), but also partly because it sounded like my sort of thing. I'm a big fan of "wilderness" tales, Willa Cather, etc and I thought that this might be just up my street. It is, undeniably, a beautiful book. The design is immaculate. It feels like a magical book to own. The story inside, however, I found a little disappointing. To me, it read as lacklustre, the characters were two-dimensional and I felt I never really got to know them properly, and that, in turn, led to a lack of empathy with them. I also had an issue with the story/plot construction. I could never really get a feel as to where the story was heading. It read a little as if the writer had literally just sat down and let her pen do her wandering for her. The result was a story which was as trackless and directionless as the Alaskan wilderness it writes of. It wound round and round in circles, never really getting anywhere, a little like Faina's footsteps in the snow. There was a strong premise for this story, with the Russian fairytale forming the backbone of it, but it ended up being dissatisfying and disappointing to me as a reader.
This is not to say that there is not some great quality writing in this book. I particularly loved the part where Mabel describes her reasoning behind their move to the Alaskan wilderness, internally attributing this to her fear of "the gray" (getting old.) The descriptions of the winter landscapes are particularly haunting and beautiful.
I've agonised over whether this book is a keeper or not (I have limited space for storage and tend to only keep books which are truly special to me). However, on balance, I think I've decided that I am going to hang on to this one. Not because I'll ever read it again - I won't - it's not good enough to merit a second reading. No, I'm keeping it purely because it is such a beautiful book. On that basis alone, it would look great on anybody's shelf.
on 1 January 2014
I am nearly at the end of this book and have found myself annoyed with it. The descriptions of the wilds of Alaska are well dcne to a point, and the beauty of the environment. However, the characters are very annoying. Jack is quite well envisaged, and the Bensons just bearable. Mabel is really irritating and hysterical, I can't bear her and her childlessness obsession and her sewing of furry dead creatures as trimmings brought to her by Garrett who wants to kill everything that moves. Faina is similar and irritating, firstly a little wild waif, and then an accomplished huntress, always fading away when she gets too hot.I can't wait to finish it.
on 5 March 2012
Once in a while a book falls into your lap and you could almost swear it was dusted with pure magic. The Snow Child is one of those books. Inspired by the Russian fairytale of the same name, Eowyn Ivey weaves her magic bringing new depth to the timeless tale. Reading this book is like balancing on a fine line between reality and fantasy. The way the author has written it, you are never quite sure if you are reading a historical tale of pure fairytale.
The writing is vivid, mesmerising and bursting with description. I was completely absorbed in the story from the first paragraph. The contrast between hot and cold, constantly turning over in your mind, as you watch the weather and relationships change with the circle of life.
The characters radiate warmth from cold harshness of the landscape surrounding them. You quickly fall in love with each and every one of them; even the wild fox. Faina just oozes magic; you are never really quite sure if she is real or not; making the freezing cold winters of Alaska, her choice of home. By the end of the book, you no longer see how dismal and dangerous the Alaskan weather is ; all you envisage is the magic and beauty of a perfectly white landscape. This book truly shows you how magical and unique nature actually is; from the presence of the Northern lights, to the sleeping bear and her cubs. The story melts your heart.
By the end of the book, I was weeping like a baby. Certain scenes really touched me and I really struggled to put this book down and not start reading it again from the beginning.
The book reminded me a lot of the Little House on the Prairie books, especially the first couple in the series where they live in a house completely isolated. It also had the magical elements I found so enjoyable in The Girl With The Glass Feet by Ali Shaw and I can now see why he was asked to review it for the cover.
I truly loved every word of this book and it will definitely be one I want to read again and again.
on 14 March 2014
This is Eowyn Ivey’s début novel based on the Russian fairytale, "Snegurochka", which translates to "Little daughter of the snow".
I will admit that I committed the ultimate sin when purchasing this book – I fell in love with the cover and bought it mainly for that reason.
There are very few characters in the book and the story is mainly centred around Jack, Mabel and Faina. The descriptive of the Alaskan wilderness is as vivid as you could get, and you can imagine being stood in the middle of this harsh, yet beautiful land that Eowyn obviously knows well.
Jack and Mabel have moved away from the city life of the 1920’s, in to the Alaskan wilderness, so that they can be alone, after Mabel lost her child years ago and is still grieving and struggling with seeing other parents and their children.
In the wilderness, Jack runs their small farm single-handed(at first), which is hard going and taking its toll on him. Mabel is stuck at home all day and is become increasingly lonely and depressed. Life in the wilderness isn’t turning out the way they hoped it would.
During the first snowfall of the year, Mabel decides that she wants to be childish and for the two of them to build a ‘snow child’ together. Jack carves a beautiful face into the little girl they have built and Mabel places a hat and mittens on her. Night falls and they return to their little cabin.
The next morning when they wake, they find that the ‘Snow child’ has vanished and all that is left is a trail of small foot prints heading into the forest.
Jack enters the forest and catches sight of a young girl wearing the same hat and mittens, a young feral girl who seems to be living up in the mountains.
The girl, named Faina, becomes friendly with Jack and Mabel and comes regularly to visit them, though she very rarely will enter their home. With the help of Faina, the couple find that they are now becoming increasingly happier.
The couple start to fall in love with Faina, but they still have no idea where she lives nor where she goes when she leaves them.
Who is Faina really?
As the story is based on a fairytale, there is a mixture of both fantasy and reality to it, which fit well together. We are never told exactly who ‘Faina’ is, or where she came from or go’s to. That is for your own imagination to work out.
The book is not a fast paced, roller coaster of a book. It is a slow yet enchanting read that some might find hard going. Saying that, I never felt I was struggling with the story and was constantly absorbed in to the Alaskan lifestyle of the 20’s.
It is heart warming, yet gut wrenching at the same time, and you can feel all the emotions that the characters carry throughout the book.
The character’s are well thought out and Jack and Mabel are a loveable couple who just fit perfectly together. Faina, is this shy, reserved, child that you never fully understand.
Is she real or is she actually the child they made of snow, come to life?
This is number one on my list of my top ten books and I have read it more than once. My copy has been passed around my family who have all enjoyed it.
on 16 November 2012
You have to read this book, its amazing. The only book I have wanted to turn back to the first page and read again. The only problem is now trying to find another author who can write like this, difficult !