The Snow Child
Eowyn Ivey’s debut novel The Snow Child is every bit as magical as the folk-tale it is based on.
Set in the 1920s, Ivey has adapted the age-old Russian tale, Little Daughter of the Snow. Her adaptation begins with Jack and Mabel, Easterners who are most decidedly not typical Alaskan frontiers-people, eking out a feeble living from the frozen land. Hindered by pride and standoffishness, the couple have only one another to keep the encroaching loneliness of the frontier at bay. Their human faults – his foolish pride and refusal to ask for help, her silence and despair at the life they now live – take a toll on them.
One night, in keeping with the original Russian tale, the couple create a child out of snow. Overnight the snow-child disappears and in its place a blonde girl appears, darting through the Alaskan forest; and so begins the tale of heartbreak and hope set in the backdrop of the Alaskan wilderness.
Ivey beautifully balances realism and fantasy in her tale, spinning the story with such subtle development that one can’t help but be drawn into it. The warmth Ivey invests into her characters evokes an emotional reaction from the reader: one can’t help but be drawn into their struggles, their developments and their successes as they slowly gain their footing in an uncertain and cruel environment.
The novel, which is permeated with a hopeful sense of realistic pessimism, brings home the themes of life. Nothing can be grasped forever and life is fleeting. As Jack and Mabel discover, merely existing isn’t enough. In order to fully appreciate the beauty inherent in the ups and downs of life, one must truly live.
Though it does not have a true fairy-tale ending, The Snow Child embraces an optimistic sense of realistic narrative that will linger with the reader long after the last page has been turned.
It is no surprise Ivey is herself from Alaska. The details with which she describes the harsh beauty of the Alaskan wilderness can only come from a long-term familiarity. Her elegant prose weaves the traditional Russian tale into a creation of her own making, staying true to the basic plot of the fairy tale. She still manages to create an enchanting novel which is as sure to become as classic as the tale it is based on.
The Snow Child was published on 1st February 2012 by Headline Review. Further information and an excerpt from the book are available here.