The Snow Child
A bewitching tale of heartbreak and hope set in 1920s Alaska.
Jack and Mabel hope that a fresh start in ‘Alaska, our newest homeland’ will enable them to put the strain of their childless marriage behind them. But the northern wilderness proves as unforgiving as it is beautiful: Jack fears that he will collapse under the strain of creating a farm, and the lonely winter eats its way into Mabel’s soul.
When the first snow falls, the couple find themselves building a small figure – a snow girl. The next morning, their creation has gone, and they see a child running through the spruce trees. Gradually this child – an elusive, untameable little girl who hunts with a fox and is more at ease in the savage landscape than in the homestead – comes into their lives. But as their love for the snow child and for the land she opens up to them grows, so too does their awareness that it, and she, may break their hearts.
Set in the beautifully mysterious landscape of Alaska in the 1920s, The Snow Child is the debut novel of Eowyn Ivey. The novel begins with an introduction to Mabel and Jack, a couple in their fifties who have decided to try their hand at homesteading. This has proved to be a struggle, as Jack is getting too old for the physical labour required, and Mabel dwells on a stillbirth she suffered some years ago. Having been born and raised in Alaska, Ivey has an understanding of and appreciation for the landscape which she so vividly conjures up with her prose. The sense of the joy and hardship that comes with living off the land is also very convincing.
As the first snow falls, Mabel and Jack momentarily forget their troubles as they play outside and build a child out of snow. They shock themselves with how lifelike their creation is, and it brings devastating memories of the child that they have lost. Soon they find that the snow child has disappeared, and a strange girl begins appearing in the woods. Unsure what to allow themselves to believe, they each draw their own conclusions about where this girl has come from, and keep from each other.
The Snow Child is a sweet, sad and unusual story that has elements of fairytale, fantasy and tragedy. Ivey’s description of the Alaskan landscape is just as sharply detailed as the description of Jack and Mabel’s love and grief. The narrative is dreamy, but with enough twists and turns to keep you hastily turning the pages in order to piece together the clues about the mysterious child and where she came from. Overall, a delightful read and a very impressive first novel.