Best of 2012: The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey – Guest Post by Lucy Rock

This post is written by blogger Lucy Rock. Her blog, Literary Relish, features a pleasingly varied selection of books, as well as updates about The Manchester Book Club, which Lucy attends, and which has its own blog here. I always enjoy Lucy’s writing and she was an obvious choice to contribute to this series. Here she talks about her pick for Best of 2012, The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey.

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As tuners-in to Literary Relish may have noticed by now, my reading tastes change almost every month, resulting in (what I hope is) a healthy mishmash of literary fiction from all eras and places around the globe. However, the one section of the bookshop I do tend to veer away from is that shiny bright wall of brand-new, hyped up bestsellers. For a girl who spends the majority of her time browsing bookshops and perusing the bookish blogs and review pages, I do find I reach saturation point with many books and authors, meaning that I prefer to arrive fashionably late to the party, giving myself room to breathe and make more considered decisions without the influence of the world and his wife. That attitude considered, I am therefore very lucky to have experienced The Snow Child as one of this years’ winter reads…

2012 cover – so lovely. Image: steppingoutofthepage.co.uk

Eowyn Ivey (i.e. Tolkien’s Éowyn – a deliciously bookish namesake) is lucky enough to live in the remote, and rather huge, American state of Alaska. In The Snow Child she has drawn heavily on the region’s intense beauty and severity to provide the otherworldly backdrop to the lives of grief-laden couple Jack and Mabel. After losing their only child at birth ten years before, the pair have never been able to have a baby of their very own, something they have desperately hoped and prayed for and an absence that has caused them to become isolated from both each other and now, quite literally, the rest of the world. Moving to Alaska to find the space and simplicity they need to move on with their lives, the couple find nothing but poverty, darkness and separation. One night, in a rare moment of innocence and levity, the pair fashion a delicate little girl out of the snow in their front yard, complete with scarf and red mittens. In the morning she is gone, a single track of human footprints leading away from the melted figure and into the line of trees. A short while after, a beautiful, wild little girl enters their lives. Dressed in scarf and red mittens with fine delicate features and twigs in her white-blond hair, she is the child they have always hoped for, stepped right out of the wilderness… or… out of a fairytale itself?

This is a beautiful book on every level. Although the lead up to Christmas is clearly the perfect time for snow, magic and wishes, Eowyn Ivey still gives the book depth, trekking far across the Alaskan wilderness; a dank, dark, depressing frontier, and continuing all the way through to a place where Jack and Mabel can afford to hope and dream. Our snow maiden remains the focus of life in Alaska and the single delicious mystery that extends through and remains a long time after the book has been closed. However, what helps The Snow Child reaches far beyond the realms of simple fairy tale and nursery rhyme is the anchor of Jack and Mabel and the very real community that surrounds them. Although sympathetic about her circumstances, I found myself becoming extremely frustrated with Mabel and her reluctance both to meet her neighbours and throw herself into her new life – in a bit of a ‘come on love!’ manner. Instead, she initially appears surly and squeamish, in sharp contrast to her companion Esther. With Jack’s honest and hardworking nature, Garret’s surly and initially untrustworthy manner and a plethora of other minor salt-of-the-earth style characters, this becomes a family drama that extends far beyond the snow drift.

Eowyn Ivey. Image: bridgetasher.blogspot.com

The life of self-sufficiency that Ivey and her family lead in Alaska is admirable. Hunting for meat, growing their own veg and raising chickens, it really does seem the rural idyll. Her familiarity with and love for this savage state permeates this novel with a sense of place rarely discovered. My partner and I have always dreamt of visiting Alaska, The Snow Child is the perfect travel companion.

This has been my favourite new book from 2012 by far. I can’t wait to see what she dreams up next…

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The Snow Child  was published on 30 August 2012 by Headline.

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