Set in early twentieth century Alaska, this book has a bleak setting, made ever harsher by Eowyn Ivey’s fantastic prose. From the very first chapter, the reader has a real idea of how tough life is out there, how remote and isolated everything is, and how hard the homesteaders must work to simply survive. In a landscape like this, family life and happy moods are something to cling on to, to keep you going through the cold, winter months. But for Jack and Mabel, life is difficult. Not only do they have to work through the harsh weather, but Mabel is still struggling to cope with the grief of losing a child a decade past.
Suddenly, a young girl starts to appear around their homestead, and over time they earn her trust. Their longing for a child is evident, and the girl’s presence turns a miserable landscape into something magical and wonderful. Ivey’s writing is especially effective here – pointing out the beauty of nature, how the snowflakes fall on eyelashes, the many wild flowers and plants, the variety of animals.
The characters are also wonderfully written. Mabel, whilst at first seemingly weak and fragile, proves herself to be headstrong and hardworking. Jack is stubborn and perhaps a little gruff, but softens up. The Snow Child’ herself is as much of a mystery to the reader as Jack and Mabel, which gives everything a bit of an ethereal feel.
The relationship between Jack and Mabel is very realistic – they are not a passionate couple, they are an old couple, familiar with each others ways, the initial spark long gone. The Snow Child brings them back together, reignites that spark, and that is one of my favourite parts of the story – seeing these two people, who clearly love each other very much, finally appreciating each other once again. Mabel gains confidence, her grief lessens although there is still a melancholy air about her. Jack softens, the wall between him and his wife breaking down.
Overall, this was a beautifully written book that explored various themes – relationships, loss, grief. I especially liked how all of the Snow Child’s speech was written without any quotation marks, as if she was talking directly into the heads of the other characters. It made her all the more mysterious. This should hopefully appeal to many groups of readers – those who like fiction, and those who like something a bit more fantastical.