The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey – Atmospheric and Magical Tale set in Alaska
31st March, 2017
Mabel and Jack are a childless couple. They move to the untamed Alaskan wilderness to start a new life and run away from their grief. Then, a magical child intrudes into their lives.
This is one of the most difficult novels to review. I enjoyed the novel so much, that I don’t think this review would convey my deepest feelings about the book. To take the easy way out, here is a quote. If you would like to read a whole novel with quotes like this, you would find this to be a wonderful companion to your nightstand reading pile.
“All her life she believed in something more, in the mystery that shapeshifted at the edge of her senses. It was the flutter of moth-wings on glass and the promise of river nymphs in the dappled creek beds. It was the smell of oak trees on the summer evening she fell in love, and the way dawn threw itself across the cow pond and turned water to light.”
Wasn’t that quote just beautiful? The Snow Child is based on a Russian fairy tale, The Snow Maiden. Mabel who has read the story of the snow maiden as a child, immediately sees the connection to the strange blonde haired child (who goes by the name Faina) with a red fox, who intrudes into their lives, the day after Mabel and Jack build a girl of snow outside their cabin.
Ivey makes you feel so connected to her characters. She brings out the best in her secondary characters as well. I found myself ardently believing, like Mabel, that the snow child is a magical being. When Mabel, gripped by the fear of losing this daughter, reads the old fairy tales and tries to bring out a different ending to the story (In the original fairytales, the old couple lose the snow child) by leaving meat for a fox, and urging not to shoot the fox, I did not in the least think she was being dramatic over a trivial matter. Rather I was relieved she was taking measures to save this adopted daughter who came into their lives. Putting rational thinking aside, I found myself nodding and thinking ‘How very essential’ to Mabel’s superstitious beliefs.
The themes of the novel are intense – death and renewal of life. Ivey has put forward a contrasting picture here. The bleak, lifeless winter is when the snow child visits the childless couple and brings them joy. When the rest of the world wakes up to signs of life after the winter and snow, this is when a death-like feeling looms on Mabel and Jack as the snow child leaves them when the snow melts. Another particular incident that stands out is the killing of a swan. This brings out the feral side of Faina on administering death to an angelic creature as the swan. On the other hand the brutal incident renews an understanding and love between Faina and a young lad.
The prose is lyrical and charming. Ivey’s descriptions are detailed and transport you to the Alaskan landscape. Towards the end of the book, I knew what to expect. But the writing fills you with so much anguish that you begin to hope that something magical can happen to sort it all out.
Final Verdict :
I could not stop reading this book. It is beautifully written and captures the beauty of the landscape and the turmoil in the mind of characters. I would not call the book one that strictly adheres to magical realism because even though Mabel makes up her theories for the birth of her ‘snow child’ , her husband tells the readers what the truth looks like, thus stripping the book of its sublime fantastical elements. I loved the subtle elements of magical realism and the overall fairytale tone of the book. Highly recommended, especially for a winter’s night.
Title : The Snow Child
Author : Eowyn Ivey
Publisher : Headline Books
Published : 2012
Language : English
Pages : 423
Rating : 5/5
Do you enjoy atmospheric reads?