Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Book Review - The Snow Child

The Snow Child – Eowyn Ivey    

I discovered this book by randomly browsing through the Kindle bestsellers. Every now and then, I fancy a different ride and this seemed to fit the bill nicely. The premise was intriguing and any book based on an accent fairy tale always grabs my interest.

The blurb:

Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart--he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season's first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone--but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees.

This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them.

I am firmly a “character” man. I need my books to have great characters to retain my interest, but sometimes I do appreciate expert descriptions. In the Snow Child, Eowyn Ivey has managed to convey the harsh Alaska setting perfectly. The sense of isolation and danger that the elements possess are really brought to life in colourful form. It may sound cliché but you can almost feel the cold, the frost and the silence.

Yet at the same time the book does not feel overly bleak. Ivey is careful to portray the beauty of the location and all it has to offer. Yes, there is the serious consequence of not having enough food stock piled for winter but there are also the breath taking scenery and the comfort of being cut off from everyone and being as one with nature.

Returning to the characters then, the story focuses on two protagonists: Mabel and Jack.
When we meet Mabel she is contemplating ending her life. Her and Jack have moved to Alaska to isolate themselves after they are unable to have children. The loss has struck them both hard and Alaska is their way to escape everything that reminds them of their former life.

Mabel is a good character. She is quite old fashioned in her conduct and appears fairly flakey as a character. However, she possesses an inner strength that becomes more evident as the story progresses.

Jack too is old fashioned. He is stoic and unable to express his emotions. This leads to difficulty in his relationship as Mabel often feels unsupported.
For the first part of the novel nothing much happens in regards of the plot. The introduction of the Snow Child then is most welcome. It changes the dynamic of the married couple and adds an intriguing mystery to the narrative.

The pacing of the mystery is handled perfectly. Ivey shows just enough of the Snow Child (Faina) to rouse suspicion but never confirms or denies who she really is until it is absolutely necessary. Alongside this, Ivey makes reference to the fairy tale the book is based on. It is a clever move as it leads the reader into thinking they know the direction of the plot.

The supporting cast is good but well realised with perhaps Ester being the strongest character in the book, think Kathy Bates in “Titantic” crossed with “Calamity Jane” and you are half way there. The other characters are solid although I would like to have seen the dynamic between Jack and Garrett explored further.

The ending is satisfying if a little disappointing. It was not so much a crescendo as more of a summary of what went on. I’d have preferred a more definitive ending that seemed inevitable.

Overall then, “The Snow Child” is a very good read. The prose is excellent and the characters are good. The plot could have been a little bit more intriguing. I am not a believer that action is essential in books but this novel could have certainly done with a bit more.

My rating: 7.4