“That’s what my name means, Faina said, still pointing.
No. That light. Papa named me for the color on the snow when the sun turns.
Alpenglow, Mabel whispered.
She felt the awe of walking into a cathedral, the sense that she was being shown something powerful and intimate and in its presence must speak softly, if at all.”
Title: The Snow Child
Author: Eowyn Ivey
Publisher: Headline Publishing Group
Date of Publication: 2012
It’s only January but I’ve already found some new favourites: Colleen Hoover’s It Ends with Us (you can read my review here), Georgette Heyer’s Venetia (review coming once I’ve posted the ones of previous reads), and yes – Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child.
This novel takes us to Alaska, as it was in 1920. Uncivilised and untamed Alaska. Where you have to work hard to provide for yourself, you have to plow and sow and harvest, trap and hunt. You have to know nature and respect it. You have hardly anyone to turn to if you fail, fall ill or get injured. It is the land where a high percentage of our glorious 21st century humanity would fail to survive.
A middle-aged couple moves to this godforsaken place, running from a painful past. Mabel is haunted by the memory of her stillborn child, Jack is haunted by remorse for not having supported his wife as he should have done. They go to Alaska to build a new life together.
“He thought that Mabel would cry, and he wanted to be anywhere else. It was wrong and cowardly, and he’d done it before – when Mabel lost the baby and shook with grief, when the relatives whispered harsh words, when the Bensons asked about the child in the woods. But it was like the need to take a breath. The urge was too strong, and without saying another word, Jack left the cabin.”
Mabel is considering suicide, and Jack realises that he is not young or strong enough to work alone. Their life seems to be falling apart. Then in a moment of joy, they build a little girl out of snow. The next morning, their creation is gone and there are footprints around the homestead. The footprints of a child.
A child who moves “through the forest with the grace of a wild creature.” A child who seems half illusion, half flesh and blood – yet magical from her golden hair to her little feet. She is Faina.
She becomes part of the couple’s life, but with knowing her comes love, and with love comes the desire to protect and possess.
And then it begins. The domestication of Faina.
I let everyone read the book and see for themselves whether it’s a good idea to try to tame something, someone who belongs to the wilderness.
Throughout the novel, foreshadowing creates an ominous atmosphere, and in this, Eowyn Ivey is a most correct writer. She shows the utmost respect for the reader: she never fools you into believing that a perfect “happy end” can be possible. It simply isn’t. Still. Still, as you read, you willingly suspend your disbelief and find yourself wishing, wanting a happy ending. The characters are so gloriously human, their problems are portrayed with such a heart-breaking honesty, you cannot help rooting for their happiness, even if it is clear that it can never be.
I don’t want to ruin your reading experience, so I shan’t go into detail over the ending. Let is suffice that it left me wondering, it was emotional and quite vague. I usually prefer explicit endings, when I know exactly what happens to each character, when I am given a sense of certainity, when every plotline is neatly resolved. That kind of ending is a lie, though, that writers tell us to fulfill our wishes.
Eowyn Ivey doesn’t lie.
So, I want to give this novel all the praise it deserves. It is a masterpiece. Eowyn Ivey rewrites an old folk tale to give us the magic that is missing from our lives, to show us suffering that is human, and bravery that is not associated with romantic heroes but with everyday people.
Have you read this book? Or her other novel, To the Bright Edge of the World?
Feel free to share your thoughts below in the comment section! 🙂