1 February 2012

Book Review: The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

"Jack and Mabel have staked everything on making a fresh start for themselves in a homestead 'at the world's edge' in the raw Alaskan wilderness. But as the days grow shorter, Jack is losing his battle to clear the land, and Mabel can no longer contain her grief for the baby she lost many years before.

The evening the first snow falls, their mood unaccountably changes. In a moment of tenderness, the pair are surprised to find themselves building a snowman - or rather a snow girl - together. The next morning, all trace of her has disappeared, and Jack can't quite shake the notion that he glimpsed a small figure - a child? - running through the spruce trees in the dawn light. And how to explain the little but very human tracks Mabel finds at the edge of their property?

Written with the clarity and vividness of the Russian fairytale from which it takes its inspiration, The Snow Child is an instant classic - the story of a couple who take a child into their hearts, all the while knowing they can never truly call her their own."

Rating: 5/5

This book isn't chick lit by any means, so you may wonder why exactly I'm reviewing it on the site. I first heard about this book from another blogger, Vicki, and was blown away by her review of it. This book sounded so captivating and beautiful that I tweeted about how much I was looking forward to it and lo and behold, I was lucky enough to receive a copy on my doormat the next day! It is a beautiful royal blue hardback book, with white images etched into the cover - it's simple and sleek, much like the story and it works so perfectly, and is such a beautiful cover your eye is really drawn to it immediately. I didn't know anything about it's author, Eowyn Ivey, or the Russian fairytale from which it came, and I just absolutely loved this book, it's stunningly and hauntingly beautiful.

Jack and Mabel are living in the wilds of Alaska in the 1920's, and really struggling to cope with their lifestyle, finances, and lack of children together. They moved there in the hope of forgetting the pain of their past, but it's just followed them all the way to Alaska, and is eating away at their marriage. When a heavy snowfall occurs, Jack and Mabel bond over the creation a 'snow girl' they craft together, with Mabel dressing the girl also. The next morning, they see a young, blond girl running through the forest and across their land. Who is this mysterious girl, and how is she going to affect the lives of Jack and Mabel? As I mentioned, this book is based on a Russian fairytale, although I've never heard of it or read it, and this is referred to throughout the book by the characters, which was an interesting inclusion by Ivey, but also brings the book into the real world somehow.

Jack and Mabel are wonderful characters, and are written so beautifully by Eowyn Ivey. Anyone reading this will be able to sympathise with Mabel, she is suffering over the loss of her only baby and is struggling to bond with Jack as a result. However, her hope and and excitement over the arrival of the mysterious Faina is very uplifting but at the same time you want to warn her perhaps things aren't as they seem as you don't want to see her get hurt again. I liked how she adapted to her circumstances, changing as the book progressed, and the book was a realy development for Mabel. Jack was a quiet and brooding character, choosing to work hard instead of verbalise his feelings to his wife. You can feel the pain emanating from both of them,  the scenes they share and those they do alone echoing their thoughts and feelings, and you can really feel their loneliness in the Alaskan wilderness despite having each other. I was really drawn into the story of this couple, and was really hooked into their story, both their past and the present of the book.

The mystery of Faina is a strange one, and I did struggle to get my head around her in the novel quite a bit. I had myself doubting whether or not she was real, and when I finally started to believe that she was, something else happened that made me doubt it again. I did like how Ivey was throwing us in different directions, and it constantly kept the book fresh as you didn't know what was going to happen with her, Jack and Mabel next. Faina is very much a fairytale character, one that Mabel and Jack desperately want to believe is real, and I feel this is really contrasted well with the stark wilderness of Alaska, and the desperate need for survival of the other characters in the book. Faina is perhaps their little ray of sunshine and bit of hope amongst darkness and despair, and for that reason alone, you are wishing for a happy ending for these people.

Ivey's descriptions of her native Alaska, albeit many years ago from the present day Alaska she is living in, are stunning and really take your breath away at times. She manages to use her words to convey perfectly the vast forests, the crisp, white snow and the bitter coldness of the weather and winds, as well as how hard it is for Jack and Mabel to survive amongst the adverse conditions, trying desperately to grow food to survive. This book is breath-taking and a real joy to read, and believe me when I say you'll be touched by the worlds of Jack and Mabel for a long time after turning the last page. I was captivated by this tale of love, hope and loss and found Ivey's writing draws in her reader and into the world of Alaska, and Jack and Mabel too. It is hauntingly beautiful and lets you get totally lost in the world of 1920's Alaska, and the fairytale that is Faina, the Snow Child.

You can buy The Snow Child in both hardback and as an eBook now. (links go to Amazon.co.uk)

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