I haven’t posted a book review for ages, which is ridiculous, because I have read several books over the last few months which would be good to review. This was the December choice of my book group, and it was one of my suggestions. The theme I went for was ‘Winter,’ and Anna Karenina and The Dark is Rising were my other choices.
The Snow Child was written by Eowyn Ivey, and was a Richard and Judy Book Club favourite in 2012.
The story follows Jack and Mabel, a childless couple in the 1920s, who settle in Alaska. During their second winter there, they build a snow child. Mabel, still grieving for a child she has lost, carves a girl’s face lovingly into the snow. Like the snow child in the Russian fairytale which inspired this story, the snow child appears to come to life.
This is a beautifully written book, and particularly striking in its descriptions of the Alaskan wilderness. Although the descriptions are beautiful, life for the couple is harsh and difficult. The girl, Faina, changes their perspectives and their relationship. They come to know, and ultimately rely on, another pioneer family. The winters are difficult, sometimes life-threatening. Farming and hunting are hard, tiring and wearing. Yet throughout, Ivey retains the sense that there is something magical, almost fairy-tale like about this story.
I really enjoyed the descriptions of their pioneer lifestyle; it is an aspect of history I know very little about, and I had never read anything set in Alaska before. Others have said that they found the day-to-day aspects of the narrative slow, and I can understand that, but don’t share that opinion. I liked the characters, and felt that each was well-developed; each certainly had a dark side to their souls.
Somehow, the novel is never a happy one. There is a sense of sadness that lies throughout, perhaps reminiscent of the ever-present threat of winter and death in Alaska. Although I liked it, it is not a book I think I will read again. However, it is definitely a book to read once.