The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

I became aware of this novel through a digital newsletter that Waterstones sends me regularly regarding new releases and the like and the title and cover of this novel just caught my eye. The book was yet to be released but I scribbled down the title and the date of its release and then used up the last of my Yuletide gift vouchers to order it. I became very impatient for its arrival and eventually when I opened the package, I found myself running my hands across the cover – its easily one of the more attractive books – to my own personal taste at least – I have found recently but more on that later.

The tale which this debut novel indulges us is quite unlike anything I have read before. Jack and Mabel, a middle-aged couple, have moved to Alaska from Pennsylvania following the death of their stillborn child. Mabel is grief-stricken and her mourning weighs heavily on her shoulders to the point where it metaphorically disables her. Jack struggles to console her and instead – not that he has any choice – launches himself into the work on the land; the ploughing, the planting, chopping wood for the fire and the like. But the land is inhospitable although excruciatingly beautiful and Jack struggles to cope with the labour, especially with him being an older man and doing the work alone. During the first heavy snow of the season, in a tender and childlike surge of emotion, the two build a tiny snow child in the still falling snow. When they wake the next morning, their little creation is gone and all that is left is trail of little footprints leading away from where it stood and the speculation of a glimpse of a child in the early morning light. What follows is a hauntingly beautiful tale in which the couple lead this wildling child into their lives with her white blonde hair, piercing blue eyes and delicate features only to realise that there is a wildness in her that can never be tamed, an affinity for the wilderness that can never be quenched and they come to love her but know that she can never truly be their own.

For a debut, this book is impeccably well written and enchanting from the start. Full to the brim with piles of description that drags us body and soul into the harsh glory of the Alaskan landscape, you can almost feel the snow on your cheeks. This book captured my imagination in so many ways and I couldn’t put it down – I felt a little lost when I didn’t have my nose between the pages and so few books have that affect on me. I found myself manipulating Faina, the snow child, into an image I wanted to see as opposed to solely what was written on the page. I didn’t her in a flowered dress or blue coat, for example, but I made the image of her very much my own. Instead, I saw a blonde-haired child – her hair full of moss, lichen and birch bark – piercing blue eyes, perfectly white skin. In my mind, she wore dresses made of wolf fur, caribou hide and wore little leather hide boots. She was perfectly wild and undomesticated to the point where I made her my own. I came up with a phrase whilst contemplating this concept which I think I shall make my own – perhaps I shall be remembered for it someday – ‘A book is only a guide to your own imagination’ and that was so true with this particular tale.

So much about this captured me – the little girl and her fox in particular ran through my head in snow storms feeding my own ideas (Click here for a link to a short story I wrote inspired by this novel) and I actually caught myself staring at a blonde-haired child whilst walking into Uni – she had blue eyes, wore little boots and wore a red coat. There was nothing maternal about it but the image fed my imagination. The book also fed my desire to visit Alaska even more. The book itself is loosely based around an old Russian fairytale which I am going to have into further for even though the tale is included in the appendix of the book, I want to know more about this particular legend.

Even the look of the book entices me – the mass of snowflakes inside the covers, the image of the girl being followed by a fox and the long birch trees on the cover. When I went on the website, I found other covers of the book that had been released and my eye was captured by a few which I have shown below.

All in all, this is a beautifully haunting book that will stay with you – foxes and blonde-haired snow children will wander into your life and take over until that slightly sad moment when the last page is turned and the book is slid carefully back onto the shelf…

The beautiful UK book cover

The French cover

The Norwegian Cover

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3 thoughts on “The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

  1. Pingback: A lesson on living – “The Snow Child” by Eowyn Ivey « Reading Through the BS

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