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.
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.
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 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.
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 !
on 7 February 2013
I wasn't that impressed with this book. It was well written I suppose but that's expected of a published book. It was bought me as a present and I thought it was going to be a great read because of the cover *slaps face*. Don't be fooled by covers! Silly me... Anyway, it was ok. I finished it- eventually. I like fantasy and I like reading about others' emotional problems and solutions, but the story didn't seem to go anywhere. The whole plot was told in the first half and then when something did happen near the end, I felt like it was just put in to bring the story to an end. I was also left a little confused. Was the snow child real or not? I know you're probably meant to use your imagination and decide yourself but when there's contrasting evidence and I'm left undecided it is frustrating. Maybe it just wasn't for me. I notice there's lots of 5 star reviews so other people obviously liked it. I suppose you won't know until you read it :)
on 7 December 2014
I've seen The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey in bookshops for a long while, and that beautiful cover has always caught my eye. More than once I have picked it up to read the blurb, and yearned to buy it. But I was always put off by the fact that it's historical fiction, a genre I don't really get on with, and the literary feel to the story, a style I tend to shy away from. Eventually, I gave in and got a copy. Now, I so wish I had picked it up the very first time I saw it, because it's ineffably beautiful.
Jack and Mabel, a couple of middle-years, moved to rural Alaska to make a new life. To have their own farm, and leave behind the past, and Mabel's failed pregnancy. But life there isn't what they thought. Work on the farm is hard with very little reward, it's quiet and solitary, and their grief haunts them. When the snow arrives one winter, Mabel is filled with a childish joy, and Jack humouring her, together than build a snowman, and make it a snow child. The very next day, the snow child is gone, and so far the scarf and mittens Mabel put on her. Later, Jack sees a lone child running amongst the trees, wearing Mabel's scarf and mittens. Jack and Mabel are at once over-joyed to have young Faina come into their life, but weary. Where did she come from? Where are her parents? And why is Mabel too quick to remember, and take stock in, a Russian fairy-tale of a child made of snow?
The Snow Child is an absolute wonder. It's a heartbreaking story, but one full of hope and love. It's not a story of explanations, it's one of belief, of putting aside questions and just accepting, one of immense gratitude and joy. Faina comes into the lives of Jack and Mabel when things are at their lowest. The farm doesn't look like it's going to work, and Jack is getting too old to be doing all this hard work on his own. Mabel is in the depths of despair, weighed down by the guilt of being unable to bring her baby to term, and the ineffable sadness that they remain childless. Her depression knows no bounds. But then Faina appears out of the wood, an angel in the snow, and turns their lives around. There is something about Faina, the way she appears and disappears, how nobody else has ever seen her, how there are no speech marks when talking to, or in the presence of her, that makes her feel imaginary, a fairy, a ghost. There is an unreal quality to her, which causes Mabel and Jack to hold on to her even more tightly, in case she disappears. She's their miracle, and brings magic to their home through light, love and laughter; happiness and joy.
There is this enchanting fairy-tale feel about the story, that makes sense as the story is inspired by various versions of the same story; Snegurochka (The Snow Maiden in English), a Russian fairy tale, The Snow Child retold by Freya Littledale, and Arthur Ransome's Little Daughter of the Snow. The Snow Child takes elements from each of these children's stories to create a beautiful retelling. It's a novel to be enjoyed by adults, but has the awe and wonder found in a fairy tale, by weaving in this magic realism.
With fiction, especially fantasy, you can quite easily believe what you're reading, as long as there's a credible back story, despite knowing the stories couldn't happen in reality. With The Snow Child, you're never completely sure whether Faina is a child made from snow or a real child. There are hints throughout the story that could make you think either. The are times when you think she must be human, but other times where her being human makes no sense. As I said above, it's a story of putting aside questions and just accepting - not just for Jack and Mabel, but for the reader, too. We're never given a definitive answer, and in it's way, the story allows you to form your own interpretation - is Faina real or is she not? The title suggests heavily that Faina is, in fact, made of snow, but I think that's more to do with Mabel; when Faina arrives after their snow girl disappears, wearing the scarf and mittens, Mabel remembers the story of Snegurochka that her father told her as a child, and makes a link between the two. A fancy of a woman who so desperately wants a child of her own she believes a fairy tale has come true? Or in fact the impossible made possible?
What's wonderful - and brilliant of Ivey - is that through a letter from Mabel's sister, Ada, which she sends along with the copy of Snegurochka Mabel requested, Arthur Ransome is mentioned. He is a student at the university which their father worked at, and is very interested in the story and had borrowed the book.
I can't review this book without discussing the setting. There is a harsh and brutal quality to the landscape of 1920s rural Alaska. It's not soft, it's not traditionally pretty; it's remote, hard with sharp edges, ferocious, at once scary yet awe-inspiring. It's hard work living there; there is no ready-made farm, Jack has to fell trees of the wood, and then toil frozen earth to get the soil ready for farming in the Springtime. It's back breaking work in the freezing cold. The environment Jack and Mabel live in works, though; we learn in school about pathetic fallacy, where the weather reflects the mood of a character - well, with The Snow Child, the landscape is almost a reflection of the despair and sorrow the couple still feel over the loss of their stillborn child ten years before. They are still grieving, and a distance has grown between them because of their grief. And the mood isn't helped by the fact that life here is tougher than they thought it would be, due to the environment. It's cyclical.
And yet, this isn't a story that could be set in a nice, happy setting; a pretty little snowy village town where everyone is happy and ready for Christmas... Faina couldn't exist there, because her soul, her very essence is at odds with the world she lives in, in Alaska. In a pretty little snow village, her existence, though strange, wouldn't seem as miraculous; something wonderful happening somewhere wonderful is too believable, less fantastic. It's the stark contrast between the ethereal Faina and the savage terrain that allows Faina to be inexplicably enchanting. 1920s rural Alaska is pivotal to the mystery and magic that is Faina. And again with the environment reflecting a character, and also the story, there is a quietness to The Snow Child, like the hush brought by snow, the almost holy, not-quite-silence of a dark wood, that matches the quiet of Faina and her enigmatic temperament.
There is so much more to this story, I've barely scratched the surface. I could go on and talk about how beautiful this book is for several paragraphs more! The story spans years, and there's wonder to discover on every page, but wonder you should discover for yourself. In my edition of The Snow Child, Arthur Ransom's story Little Daughter of the Snow is included. It's a sweet little tale, and I can see how it inspired Ivey, but I have to say I much prefer Ivey's mesmerising and enchanting retelling.I am so, so glad I read The Snow Child, and I can see myself reading it again and again.
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 22 March 2013
This book was chosen by my Book Club and I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed it, despite the flaws. The descriptions of Alaskan landscape were compelling. A vivid contrast to the sort of description which often occurs in a book, were characters are described in minute, cliched detail: hair colour, what they are wearing etc, as if you need to pick them out on an identity parade. No, the descriptions in this book were more subtle and their purpose was to make you feel you were IN the landscape. It worked for me.
I wondered at first about the identity of the child. Later, I wondered if parallels were being drawn between a simply feral child, a person suffering from severe depressions and a magical being, sho simply didn't belong in this world. I guessed once the relationship between Garret and the child started, that it couldn't end well. I liked the way she simply disappeared. Draw your own conclusions.
There were flaws: why did they all accept so easily that she had 'melted' Why weren't the stages of grief examined? Was she just a less than complete human, who could draw others to her because of their need or her beauty, but in the end, she was as insubstantial as a child made of snow?
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.