The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey is a book I’ve been excited to read for a very long time, and I wish I’d had the chance to read it sooner.
Set in 1920s Alaska, the book tells the story of middle-aged couple Jack and Mabel who left their city home in pursuit of an isolated farming life. Needless to say Alaska is not all they’d imagined, and from the opening we begin to see how it’s starting to affect Mabel.
Whilst Jack farms the field she is left isolated at their homestead, not deemed capable of assisting with farm work. Mabel dwells on the past, with the stillborn child they lost continuing to haunt her memories as she feels she never said a proper goodbye. When we first meet her she feels isolated from her husband, and is slowly sinking into depression.
She slid her boot soles onto the surface and nearly laughed at her own absurdity – to be careful not to slip even as she prayed to fall through.
Everything changes with the arrival of the first snowfall, when Jack and Mabel give in to a childish whim to make a snowman, soon becoming a snow child. They give it mittens and a scarf, which have mysteriously disappeared the morning after. Thinking they caught a glimpse of a child through the trees, Jack sets off in pursuit only to catch nothing but snow.
The child slowly begins to appear to them both, each time coming closer to their homestead and bringing them gifts of animal furs and meat. It is almost as if she understands how much the couple are struggling to make ends meet, as well as understanding their longing for a child. However, she is a free spirit and will never stay with them, choosing instead to return to the snowy haven of the forest.
Mabel remembers the old Russian fairytale which her father used to read to her as a child (from which this entire book is based), in which an elderly couple build a snowman that becomes a child. She becomes terrified that their little girl will meet the same ending, meaning she will melt when the winter months are over. Mabel and Jack’s dream of a child has been answered, but at what cost? And is the child real, or merely a figment of their imagination?
There has been a lot of hype surrounding this book, and I’d seen many other five star reviews before I started reading it for myself, which had built up my expectations. Recently there have been books I’ve had high hopes for that have let me down, but I was so pleased that this was a brilliant read.
The book is well-written, with subtle shifts in perspective that let us see events from both Jack and Mabel’s points of view. We don’t just get a one-sided view of their marriage, which is useful considering the opening as Mabel seems deeply unhappy but we soon learn how strong their marriage is. Struggling to cope with the loss of their child left permanent effects upon them both, but this mysterious newcomer slowly fills the void in their hearts, making them complete again.
I loved how the child is just as much a mystery for the reader as she is for the characters, as even by the end you are never quite sure who the girl is and why she is there. The information we do learn about her left me even more intrigued, as she is all alone but somehow manages to survive in the frozen wilderness, seeking out her own food and hunting animals for meat.
A magical and heart-warming tale with a surprising ending, The Snow Child is a book that you can return to again and again, always taking something new from each reading. This book is well worth the praise, and I look forward to Eowyn Ivey’s second novel after reading this well-crafted narrative.
One of those rare cases where you should believe the hype, this book is a fantastic and thought-provoking tale that will stay with you long after you’ve finished the final page. I could hardly put it down and loved every second.
BUY THE BOOK