Top positive review
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A lovely book, full of magical moments
on 14 December 2017
I’m not a real fan of books with a fantasy or supernatural element. I do realise that statement will be anathema to an awful lot of people! However, if the story is well-told, has wonderful characters and a superb sense of place then I too can fall in love with a story which also has a mystical or supernatural component. As The Snow Child had those first three things (in abundance), I’m happy to say the aspect of the story which is in essence a retelling of a Russian folktale didn’t mar my enjoyment of the book overall.
Whether the child that appears following the construction of the snow girl by Mabel and Jack is a real girl or the snow girl come to life didn’t really become the focus of the book for me. What I really fell in love with was Mabel and Jack, their life together and the author’s depiction of the harsh but beautiful Alaskan landscape. I really loved that we get to see a relationship between two older people and that, despite the pressures of trying to eke out a living in the wilds of Alaska and their shared grief at not being blessed with a child of their own, there are still moments of tenderness between them. I grew fond of their idiosyncrasies such as Mabel’s habit of waiting until dinner was served before broaching a difficult subject (so Jack’s beans got cold again). And I loved their moments of playfulness – snowball fights, making snow angels, ice-skating, dancing.
The descriptions of the landscape of Alaska were really wonderful, conveying both its beauty, isolation and its dangers.
‘The sun was setting down the river, casting a cold pink hue along the white-capped mountains that framed both sides of the valley. Upriver, the willow shrubs and gravel bars, the spruce forests and low-lying poplar stands, swelled to the mountains in a steely blue. No fields or fences, homes or roads; not a single living soul as far as she could see in any direction. Only wilderness. It was beautiful, Mabel knew, but it was a beauty that ripped you open and scoured you clean so that you were left helpless and exposed, if you lived at all.’
There many other things I enjoyed about The Snow Child:
•The picture of daily life
•Esther and George – larger than life characters and true friends to Mabel and Jack
•The sense of community and the willingness of neighbours to come together when help is needed
•The sheer courage, resilience and determination of pioneers like Mabel and Jack, and Esther and George in attempting to carve out a living in such an unforgiving environment
•The celebration of ‘indoor’ skills like preserving, baking and sewing and ‘outdoor’ skills like trapping, tracking, foraging
•The wisdom of Mabel’s sister, Ada, in her letters:
‘We are allowed to do that, are we not…? To invent our own endings and choose joy over sorrow?’
‘In my old age, I see that life itself is often more fantastic and terrible than the stories we believed as children, and that perhaps there is no harm in finding magic among the trees.’
The Snow Child is a lovely book, full of magical moments and deserving of the praise it has received.