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When childless couple Jack and Mabel decide to move to a homestead in the brutal landscape of 1920's Alaska, their aim is to put their heartache behind them, start a new life and save their marriage. But life is tougher than either of them imagines and as they run into financial difficulties and extreme isolation it looks like they have no option but to move back to civilisation and accept the experience as another unfulfilled dream.
Then one cold night during a heavy snowfall, Mabel and Jack enjoy a moment of playfulness and joy and together they craft a child out of the snow, Mabel even going so far as to dress it in a warm hat and mittens. The next morning the snow child has gone, but that's when they start to glimpse a mysterious young, blonde girl running through the forest, which surrounds their home and at the same time their fortunes change and the homestead begins to thrive.
Over the years the little girl, Faina, grows to trust the couple and they begin to look on her like a daughter. Yet none of the neighbours knows of this child, who runs feral through the woods and disappears each spring when the snow begins to melt. Mabel is reminded of a fairytale her father read her as a child, but surely it is just that, a story, and the tragic ending couldn't play out in real life?
One of the very best things about being invited to join the Amazon Vine program (where products and pre-releases are offered to selected members to review) has been the chance to sample and discover amazing books I probably wouldn't have come across otherwise. Over the last year I've felt as though I've read a lot of the same kind of books and had become a little jaded about reading. The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey is one of the surprise books that re-ignited my reading flame and has prompted me to read more widely once again.
I was drawn to this book by the romance of the publisher's synopsis and the contrast between the harsh, brutal reality of life on a 1920's Alaskan homestead and a fairytale child. With its roots in Russian folklore, the story of The Snow Child doesn't disappoint and is both magical and heartbreaking. It has the feel of a real old fashioned myth and is breathtakingly beautiful to read.
The characters of Mabel and Jack are painfully realistic and well developed. From the very beginning you can sense their acute pain and longing. Little moments and glances between the couple drive home the despair they feel at their crumbling marriage and my heart went out to them. Mabel's isolation in particular was depicted so perfectly I could feel it myself. Considering we meet the couple in middle age, I think the author's ability to establish such a strong bond and history between the pair was nothing short of remarkable. Despite their difficulties, the tenderness and love they share is beautiful in a very subtle and believable way.
The setting too was also nothing short of breathtaking. Eowyn Ivey manages to get across the beauty and ferocity of the Alaskan wilderness and life for those trying to not only survive but also earn a living and raise a family in their unwelcoming surroundings. The contrast between the fairytalesque Faina and the brutal honesty of this harsh existence is simply stunning. I'm going to say as little as possible about the enigmatic Faina, who is central to this story, for fear of spoiling the book for anyone else. I will say that I loved her and she stole my heart completely.
The Snow Child quite simply blew me away. The writing is beautiful, evocative and atmospheric; it's difficult to believe that this is Ivey's debut and is certainly a huge accomplishment. Both heartrendingly sad and eerily, subtly magical, this is an enthralling read from start to finish. This book is perfect for being swept into another world, curled up in front of a blazing fire and allowing hours to pass you by as you find yourself lost in the pages. I loved everything about this book and recommend it highly.