The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey, is a story of grief and survival. It tells the tale of Mabel and Jack who have moved to Alaska to make a fresh start. Set in the 1920s when Alaska was a frontier on the edges of civilisation this new life has turned out to be bleak and harsh. Mabel and Jack are no longer young and they are struggling to cope.
Their only child was stillborn many years ago, a continuing source of grief which they do not discuss. Jack feels guilty that he has not provided Mabel with the life that he feels she deserves. Mabel believes that she has let Jack down in not providing the family they planned.
One evening, after the first snowfall of winter, they build a snowman which they form into the shape of a little girl. The next day the snowman has melted and they spot a little girl wearing the scarf and mittens that they had placed on their creation. Is she real or imagined? Did their snowman come to life as in a well loved tale that Mabel remembers her father reading to her as a child?
The writing in this book is flawless, atmospheric and in places surreal. As the little girl flits in and out of their lives they cope with the realities of taming the wilderness around them that they may eke out a living. They also try in vain to tame the little girl, but for whose benefit?
The relationship between the couple and with the neighbouring family they befriend, who believe that they are imagining the child, is beautifully done. By developing the plot from differing points of view the reader comes to understand why each character acts as they do, frustrating as that sometimes seems.
This story brought to mind a traditional fairy tale. Aspects are explained but many mysteries remain. Woven throughout is the question of what is real. The evocative setting is perfect.
The denouement was fitting but personally I found it disappointing. I would have liked more reason even if questions still hung in the air. Having explained so much as the story progressed this ending, in my opinion, fell short.
Nevertheless the dream like qualities of the book made for enjoyable reading. The questions asked were challenging. Do we love to fulfil a need in ourselves or to benefit the loved one? Do we discourage children from being what they want for their benefit or because we can only be comfortable with them if they act in a certain way? The mixture of realism and surrealism worked well.
A beautifully written tale set in a harsh yet fantastical setting, this is the perfect book to read curled up by a fire on a cold, dark winter’s night.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Tinder Press.