First, as a full disclaimer, I don’t usually go out of my way to read books in this genre, so bear that in mind as we delve. But this is a good thing! I have been encouraged to branch out, to explore new things! To explore the brutality of the Alaskan wilderness and the quiet solemnity of heavy snowfall. The sadness of an empty of life and the fragility of happiness. This is, you see, an emotional novel. Ew, emotions. I don’t generally do well with emotional novels. Luckily The Snow Child came along to prove to me that I can enjoy them.
A brief summation of the plot: older, childless couple moves to Alaskan wilderness in probably the early 1900’s or possibly late 1800’s to begin a new life with a distinct absence of neighbours or reminders of their childless state. The Alaskan wilderness is brutal and they struggle. They make a snowman child one night and in the morning there is a wild girl running about, who they become convinced is the snowgirl. At the same time as they build a careful, quiet relationship with this surrogate child, they realize they must also rely on other people to survive because life is all about TEAMWORK. Girl disappears and reappears with the snow, prompting the couple to believe that she is indeed a snow child. (Hence the title, really.) Girl improves their life. Etc.
What I really liked about this book was its clever use of magical realism. I think it’s a difficult genre to pull off, especially in adult literature, without sounding either a) corny as hell, or b) stupid. Just so stupid, you guys. Luckily, this book does neither of those things. The world is very real, and the ‘magic’ (is the snow child truly a magical creation made from wishes and snow, or is she a flesh-and-blood girl?) while the main mystery of the book, is not played up. The story exists, real and sound and filled with exquisite description of Alaska, around the mystery and in the end, while we don’t discover the truth, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that the girl existed at all.
Oh, and let’s talk about those exquisite descriptions of Alaska. Ivey does an absolutely stellar job. I found myself wanting to move to the Alaskan wilderness by the end of the book, just me and a dog and a shotgun. What kind of crazy is that? I’m a city person, but the way she described the land and the weather and the brutal, uncompromising, unforgiving landscape is really, oddly, loving. Ivey’s love comes through and is infectious in a strange way. The land is as big a character as any of the human protagonists, if not more so. It’s stunning, and gives this quiet little fairy-tale story a grand and somewhat solemn cathedral of a setting.
To conclude: not my normal cup of tea, but a delicious brew nonetheless. The beginning is a little slow, a bit questionable, but once you get into it, there are rich oaky undertones with layers of bright spruce and just a hint of sadness. This is a lovely brew to look at, with complex shades. It finishes with a lingering, but pleasant aftertaste. Highly recommended for those looking for a soothing cuppa.