Mabel had known there would be silence.
Tis almost the festive season and though the high street lights are lit and the present buying is well under way, the very slim prospect of a white Christmas, university assignments and a huge workload is keeping me from that Christmassy glow. So I decided to turn to Eowyn Ivey’s bestselling debut in the hope of catching some seasonal magic.
The Snow Child opens in the forests of 1920s Alaska, a perfect setting for this fairytale retold. Jack and Mabel have relocated in the hope of escaping the disappointment of childlessness but deep in the wilderness, working off the land with not much company only highlights their heartache. Then one night, they make a girl of snow only to discover the next morning that she’s been destroyed and a mysterious childlike figure haunts them through the trees.
The line between reality and fantasy is one played with and walked throughout The Snow Child. Faina, as the titular child, is the key to the rekindling of Jack and Mable’s love, and initially flits around the edges of the story to give just a hint of the supernatural. Not knowing where she comes from, who she is or even what she is adds an ethereal mystique that only the best fairy stories can achieve.
The plot of this book, though beautiful in its simplicity, pales in comparison to the dreamlike atmosphere and sympathetic characters Ivey creates. The day-to-day lives of Jack and Mabel are not particularly exciting but the delivery of their story, the subtlety of their emotions and reflections of the natural world within the story are outstanding. The introduction of Faina draws out the unresolved tensions between the couple as they slowly grow into their new life in the seclusion of the forest.
The second half of the story, after a time-slip of a few years, widens the story out to introduce new characters and relationships. Though perfectly enjoyable as an extension of the fairytale, some of the magic is lost as the ethereal quality of Faina is dissolved by familiarity. This more grounded side to the story builds upon the natural Alaskan landscape and the qualities needed to survive, both in the wild and in a family.
The Snow Child is a lovely story, quietly captivating and perfect for the chilly December nights. A beautifully written exploration into the fragile yet tender relationships forged and reinforced in the cold, cruel but beautiful world.