The Snow Child

The Snow Child, Eowyn Ivey

Wolverine River, Alaska, 1920. Jack and Mabel, a childless couple in their middle age, have moved to a homestead in the Alaskan wilderness to start a new life and try to bury the grief they have carried for years. As the book opens, it seems as though Mabel at least has given up hope of achieving their aim. When she steps out onto the ice-covered river, peering down at the frozen bubbles and large cracks beneath, we hold our breath.

From the opening lines of this novel we are held, not only by the character of Mabel, and then of Jack, but by what is, in effect, the main character in the story – the place itself:

this strange wilderness – guarded and naked, violent and meek, tremulous in its greatness”.

Raw and unforgiving, it is also a place of great beauty, and we watch as each of the characters in his or her own way battles to an understanding of that paradox.

There is magic here (the story is based on an old Russian fairytale), but magic that seems possible; a child living in the woods, a snowflake that doesn’t melt. And there is silence, everywhere silence; the silence of a snowfall, silence full of small unfamiliar sounds, silence filled with absence. This is a truly lovely book, a hymn to a place and way of life by a writer who knows and loves them. There is an old-fashioned charm about the tale, which is told in a simple, beautiful prose. Pared clean, honest, and unpretentious, this is how to make an impression on your debut.

Highly recommended.

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