Thursday, 18 April 2013

Review: The Snow Child

The Snow Child
Eowyn Ivey

Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart--he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season's first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone--but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees. This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them.*

The Snow Child transforms a Russian folktale, about a childless couple who make a girl out of snow, into a fairytale set in the heart of the 1920's Alaskan landscape. Rather than ignoring the story's obvious roots and inspiration, Ivey weaves the folktale into the narrative. The tale is one of Mabel's favourites and it is through her interaction with the story that the elements of fantasy are brought into the novel. Ivey never makes it clear whether this is fantasy or reality. Although I think the balance between realism and fantasy is quite even and I think the use of the folktale is clever, as I was reading it I found the lack of clarity a tad irritating. I wanted to know whether Faina was real or not. Looking back, I realise that this ambiguity is one of the main strengths of the novel. As a reader we are entranced by the possibilities and I know that my imagination was running completely wild.

I must admit, I felt ever so sad reading The Snow Child. I don't know how Ivey did it but she managed to convey Jack and Mabel's desperation, loneliness and fear of loss even when the story itself perked up. It quite cleverly made me worry constantly, along with Jack and Mabel, about the inevitable day when Faina would not return.

I enjoyed this book with the lush descriptions of the Alaskan landscape and some really lovable characters but, in the end, it fell flat for me. There was quite a gentle hype around it and I was so excited to read it but it just didn't live up to those expectations. But then maybe that is a lesson for me: don't believe the hype, use my own noggin to form opinions and don't just act like a sheep. Don't get me wrong, I'm not wishing I'd never read it, I enjoyed it thoroughly as a book to wile away a couple of hours with each night before bed. I do feel like Ivey has more to give and I look forward to her next novel (if she does one, that is).

'We never know what is going to happen, do we? Life is always throwing us this way and that. That’s where the adventure is. Not knowing where you’ll end up or how you’ll fare. It’s all a mystery, and when we say any different, we’re just lying to ourselves. Tell me, when have you felt most alive?'

* Description from Goodreads



  1. I hate it when that happens - books that doesn't live up to the hype :( The setting sounded so interesting!

    1. The setting is probably the element that saved the book for me. The descriptions are wonderful, particularly of the snow.

  2. This book sounded so beautiful, but now I'm unsure if I really want to spend time reading it. I definitely fall into that hype trap a lot.

  3. I think as long as you don't go in with high expectations it is ok. It's quite damaging to the reading experience when you expect too much as I've found out so many times! It is still a beautifully written book though.


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