The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
Category: Literary Fiction
I remember reading a review online which described this book as ‘a story that has the intricate fragility of a snowflake and the natural honesty of the dirt beneath your feet’. I think that one sentence encapsulates the essence of this book.
This book has been shelved as magical realism and I wouldn’t call it that. It’s surrealist at best, with a tinge of fairytale, myth and magic, but never overtly unbelievable.
Set in the Alaskan wilderness, in the early 1900’s this story is loosely based on the Russian fairytale of ‘Snegurochka’ or the ‘The Snow Maiden’. This tale is believed to be retold in different versions with different endings. Eowyn Ivey takes this tale and gives it her own twist and the end result is bewitching!
It’s very evident that Ivey was raised in Alaska because her descriptions in The Snow Child create a transportive reading experience. The snow capped mountains, the beautiful and brutal wildlife, the rivers and creeks, the scents and smells, the tastes and sounds, can be felt with such clarity without setting foot in Alaska. And you feel the true power of storytelling, of being able experience something, as unfamiliar as it might be, through mere words on a page.
The story primarily follows Jack and Mabel, an old couple who haven’t been able to conceive a child and to fill that void, move to Alaska to lead a simple life of solitude and companionship. However, one magical evening, when the first snow falls, they glimpse a little girl running through the trees and she seems to be a child of the woods. But there’s more to her story than meets the eye and I’ll leave the rest for you to read and find out.
The only issue I had was it does slow down in the third and final part and it could have been cut short. Also, it does have multiple scenes of hunting animals which is something that generally makes me really uncomfortable. Not because I’ve been a vegetarian all my life, but because it really upsets me to read of animals being killed or hunted for sport or pleasure. The difference in this book is that, it doesn’t feel that way and it’s more a means of survival and livelihood which is understandable considering their circumstances. I just thought I’d mention it here in case that is a trigger warning for you but also highlight that it’s handled delicately.