Book Review: The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, published by Headline Review 2012

I finished The Snow Child a few days ago now, but I’m unable to stop running my fingers over the raised title, or inspecting the cover, bringing it up close to my face and examining the tiny snowflakes that make up the patch of ground beneath the feet of the girl and fox. Snow is central to this novel, and at the beginning of every new chapter sits a differently shaped snowflake. Utterly gorgeous design details, which I can really appreciate in a novel.

The story is a simple yet utterly effective one, inspired by classic Russian fairy tale Snegurochka, Little Daughter of the Snow, a story Ivey discovered while stocking shelves in the bookshop where she still works. (Almost too idyllic, right?!) It’s gentle in moments, sharp and urgent in others. My favourite character in the book wasn’t the girl though, or Mabel of Jack, but a character called Esther, a woman who befriends Mabel and encourages her to, how can I put this…lighten up basically and drop the despair. Well, a lot of the time anyway. She’s a woman who’ll chop the head off a turkey and haul it indoors and chuck, bloody and still twitching,  onto the table. Actually, she reminds me quite a lot of my mum.

Mabel and Jack are a childless couple, trying to forge a new life for themselves on a homestead in the wilds of Alaska. But the grief of having lost their only child ten years previously still preoccupies their daily lives. It is their second winter up North, and times are only getting hard. Mabel is depressed and isolated, Jack exhausted and distant. Money is hard to come by and the farm work is tough for Jack to do alone. One evening however, Mabel feeling playful insists they build a little girl, out of snow. ‘She ran to a corner of the cabin where a wild cranberry bush grew. She picked a handful of the frozen berries, returned to the snow girl, and carefully squeezed the juice onto her lips. The snow there turned a gentle red.’

The following morning however, there is nothing but a broken heap of snow and little tracks leading away into the forest. A little girl, Faina eventually emerges from the forest and into the couple’s lives. However, despite Jack and Mabel’s attempts to persuade her to with stay with them past winter and go to school, rather than snaring snowshoe hares and swans, they are ineffective. Faina always disappears back into the forest.

The ending was refreshing and hugely satisfying after over three hundred pages of wondering, is she real or isn’t she?

What I really, really love about this book aswell is the little piece of writing at the back of the book about Ivey’s writing life. I also found the list of Alaskan writers hugely inspirational.

One of my favourite front covers of the year.

Love the snowflake decoration.