I’m doing a series of catch-up review posts to try and make up for my year of not blogging. These are quick reviews of books I’ve read over 2012-2013.
Eowyn Ivey’s debut novel is based on the Russian fairytale Snegurochka or the Snow Maiden, set in the bleak landscape of 1920s Alaska. Mabel and Jack have uprooted themselves from their lives and set up their homestead in a new land away from the sights and sounds of any children, to try and forget their grief over the loss of a stillborn child ten years ago.
Their hope for a fresh start hits a few stumbling blocks as they struggle for survival in this harsh land. And they find themselves drifting even further apart from each other, lost in their own pain. And winter is coming – a time when rations run low and the world turns white and unwelcoming. But when Jack and Mabel forget themselves for just a little while, they venture outside to build themselves a little snow child. The next day the snow child has melted but into their lives appears a fairylike young girl called Faina. She brings them joy and life, but also brings with her an air of magic and mystery. Is she the snow child come to life or a magical creature of the wild? Mabel has read the Snow Maiden as a young girl and keeps looking for clues to Faina’s real identity.
Mabel and Jack care for the young girl who visits them all winter. And they fear for her safety when she disappears in spring. And the myth of Persephone is stood on its head, for in the depths of winter the couple experience a spring in their hearts and wish for the biting cold winter through the spring and summer.
The story pulses with ethereal beauty, loss and yearning. Mabel is convinced that their Faina is a magical being and tries her best to be a mother to the waifish girl. But in every version of the Snow Maiden, the child melts or evaporates, and throughout the story, we fear that Faina will also meet the same fate. While the reader might want to solve the mystery of the girl’s origin, we are for the most part quite satisfied to let the story take us along where it will. Real, imagined, magical snow girl or feral wild child; the story continues on the edge of fantasy and reality. But somewhere along the way it does lose some of its hold and the magic begins to fade a little.
As the years pass, the couple lose Faina more and more – to the wilderness, to her love and her child. And we leave Jack and Mabel almost exactly where we found them, but with a bittersweet feeling in their hearts as they watch the child of their snow child playing in the snow.
Sad, dark and sometimes desolate, The Snow Child is ultimately a hopeful story and will appeal greatly to those familiar with Russian folktales, readers who enjoy magic realism and anyone who loves a magical story of hope and possibilities.
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