Title: The Snow Child
Author: Eowyn Ivey
Format: Audible Audiobook
Runtime: 10 hours 52 minutes
Release Date: February 1st 2012
Publisher: Headline Digital
Taken from Audible
A bewitching tale of heartbreak and hope set in 1920s Alaska. Jack and Mabel have staked everything on making a fresh start for themselves in a homestead 'at the world's edge' in the raw Alaska wilderness. But as the days grow shorter, Jack is losing his battle to clear the land, and Mabel can no longer contain her grief for the baby she lost many years before. The evening the first snow falls, their mood unaccountably changes. In a moment of tenderness, the pair is surprised to find they building a snowman - or rather a snow girl – together.
The next morning, all trace of her has disappeared, and Jack can't quite shake the notion that he glimpsed a small figure - a child? - running through the spruce trees in the dawn light. And how to explain the little but very human tracks Mabel finds at the edge of their property? Written with the clarity and vividness of the Russian fairy-tale from which it takes its inspiration, THE SNOW CHILD is an instant classic - the story of a couple who take a child into their hearts, all the while knowing they can never truly call her their own.
This is a difficult book to review as it's simply not the kind of book which I would usually be enthusiastic about. You might wonder why I picked it as my Audible download of the month, in that case, right? Well, the blurb intrigued me and the cover enchanted me. I had hopes of a haunting narrative, evocative of old, dark fairy tales. What I got was something different.
Ivey creates a phenomenally beautiful sense of place and it is evident that she is intimately familiar with the Alaskan wilderness she describes. The detail given to the surroundings was definitely my favourite aspect of the story. However, I felt that the characters weren't nearly as vivid. I have a suspicion that Ivey did this deliberately as the lack of colour given to either Jack or Mabel was indicative of their ailing relationship.
Jack and Mabel move to Alaska to start anew and to escape their old, childless life. But the move isn't the cure they had hoped it would be. Instead their lives have grown dismal and silent. It is only when the little girl, Faina, enters their lives that things begin to look up.
[I had some issues with this. Now, the book was set in the 1920s and Jack and Mabel are described as being an older couple from the outset of the novel. However, it's not like adoption didn't exist, (see here for a timeline of adoption history). If the couple wanted a kid as badly as described, then there were options.]
This is one of those books which is going to get four or five stars from a whole bunch of reviewers. It's beautifully written... but in my opinion, it was also slow. Actually, it goes further than that; I think it was dull.
Very little happens for about seventy percent of the novel, and when things do happen they happen slowly. Until the very end. The last few chapters of the book felt rushed and desperate to me, as though Ivey just wanted to be done with it. She added a third point of view, she skipped about six years in a leap, she seemed to forget all about the themes of hope and grief surrounding Jack and Mabel. After building a story around two characters, I had little/no emotional connection to Faina and Garrett. Their story, to me, felt like a grasped straw.
I am definitely in the minority. This book has an average Goodreads rating of 4.06 out of 5 and it is highly praised in the reader reviews there. It is described as “gorgeous” and “magic” and “heartbreakingly beautiful”. While I do agree with these sentiments on some level, I prefer books with a bit more pace and action.
This is a nice book, it's just not my cup of tea. Therefore, I'm going to give The Snow Child three stars.