I have just finished reading The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey and by the end of Part One it blew me away. I don’t understand why this book is so underrated. I have seen a few positive reviews of Ivey’s debut novel on Instagram but believe it just does not get enough press. ‘The Snow Child’ is based on the characters Mabel and Jack, an old married Pennsylvanian couple who have moved to Alaska. Mabel and Jack are such beautifully written, complex characters that their story minus all the magic would have made an interesting read. Ivey’s story is based on a Russian fairy/folktale and the magic begins at the end of Part One.
‘The Snow Child’ was published in 2012 and featured in Richard & Judy’s Book Club, thus it gained media attention and hype when first published. Where has it been since? And why did it take me so long to read it?
The majority of the book is admittedly very bleak which only compliments the fairytale Ivey weaves into her novel. Fairytales were never supposed to be straightforwardly happy as Disney may have people believe. Fairytales are as ugly as they are beautiful. Ivey has managed to incorporate all of this into an appropriately bleak and beautiful setting, one, which is very familiar to her. Ivey works at an independent bookstore in Alaska. Therefore although the setting may be foreign and mysterious to readers, the author knows the landscape intimately and shows the state for what it is, beautiful, barren and sublime.
As in most fairytales there are strong female characters, wildlife, both financial and family struggles and a very deep and real longing. All of these themes and elements are slowly and almost unnoticeably woven into this fairytale retelling. The magic is enchanting; it is neither overdone nor is used as the primary focus. The characters emotions and their love are always at the forefront of the novel. Therefore the story is as much human as it is magical. The deadly, serene landscape is both the cause of and the end of Jack and Mabel’s unhappiness. Mabel sees herself as an otter, its movements in the water portraying her ever-altering joys and sorrows, she knows she should not be this happy. She was, before, happy being a recluse and did not speak to any Alaskan natives however a family nearby come charging into her life, as does The Snow Child.
It is interesting and underdone to see a character of Mabel’s age being portrayed as lost and surprised, old and young, it seems as though her individual story could be considered a ‘coming-of-age’ tale. This fits well with C.S. Lewis’s dedication to his goddaughter Lucy in his classic children’s novel The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe:
It seems as though fairytales connect the old and the young, they make the generational gap seem that much smaller. Fairytales are also clearly universal thus people of all ages and nationalities could read Ivey’s book. This highlights the novel’s poignancy and significance. The characters in Ivey’s fiction fit together as though pieces of a puzzle, the lesser characters as well as the main trio. There are no unimportant characters.
Magic appears in more ways than one, yes the snow child is a living, breathing embodiment of magic but in a much more real sense Jack and Mabel have been magically revived. They live once again, they learn new things and meet new people, and they both have secrets and feel finally at home and happy in the refreshing Alaskan air. They also represent magic, a magic that we as adults too-often overlook.
Love also appears in various forms and no two relationships are the same. Jack and Mabel make each other feel young which is the polar opposite of another relationship within the novel. This seems like the perfect read for Valentine’s Day, despite the fact it is not a conventional romance novel. The love stories are not the focus of the novel; their romantic relationships are not their whole characters. They are each individuals who happen to love and this is just one of the themes dealt with in ‘The Snow Child.’ The love stories are not annoyingly forced upon readers but appear as natural as the frozen woods that surround them. There is young love and old love, family love and deep friendship, fast love and slow love and all are passionate.
Although I enjoyed this book I believe the last 1oo pages were the worst. I think Ivey had too much happen in the last part of her book and it changed the tone of the whole book for me. Unfortunately, I believe ‘The Snow Child’ had a better beginning than ending. I would have preferred the book to be much longer rather than have a fast-paced ending. This may seem like a strange criticism, I just felt like the ending contradicted everything I loved about the first half of the novel. This is however nothing more than my personal opinion. Overall I was very fond of ‘The Snow Child’ due to the three dimensional characters, the magical setting and the masterful way Ivey juggles masculinity and femininity, reality and fantasy, loss and gain. I would rate this novel a 4/5.