The Snow Child

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The Snow Child, Eowyn Ivey, book reviewThe Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey is a retelling of a fairy tale, based on a traditional Russian Story. This may not sound very exciting, but the writing is magical and the characters compelling and believable, so that as a reader I felt completely drawn into the Alaskan winter and the lives of Jack and Mabel and their friends. There are moments of great sadness but also passages which are uplifting and exciting. The author lives in Alaska, and I am sure that she is writing about an environment which she knows and understands. Because she inhabits this place, she enables the reader to inhabit it as well.

The core of the story is well known – “There once was an old man and woman who loved each other very much and were content with their life except for one great sadness – they had no children of their own”. One cold winter they build a snow girl – the girl becomes real and enters their lives. There are many versions of the traditional story, with a range of endings, so it is never quite clear until the final few pages how The Snow Child will finish. The story is a simple one, tinged with sadness, and its themes are about more than just the desire for a family. The meaning of friendship, possessiveness and letting go, the happiness that comes from a simple life, hard-lived, in close proximity to Nature.

“…one of the best books I have read this year.”

While the events of the Snow Child are simple, they are portrayed with great skill and conviction. Enough happens, but not too much. The thoughts and motivations of the central participants are clear and understandable. They are the thoughts and emotions which we all deal with at times. Can we choose our own endings? Joy over sorrow, for instance? The reader is never quite sure, until the end, though it is clear than even when we cannot control outcomes we can still choose how we respond and how we celebrate and remember the events which take place. Only the Snow Child herself, Faina, remains a mystery, and rightly so.

The Snow Child has attracted some great reviews, and having read it I can see why. It is an example of a simple story told with great skill so that it seems fresh and new, with elements which will resonate emotionally with many readers. It is not a sentimental book – the Alaskan winter is harsh, and there is little space for softness – but there is much to savour. It grabs the emotional attention of the reader as well as the mind – one of the best books I have read this year.

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Snow Child, The
by Eowyn Ivey

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Written by Ian

Ian is a medical academic with a long standing interest in books, particularly literary and crime fiction, as both a reader and a collector. He has published extensively in the scientific literature, mainly on nutrition. He has two grown-up children and lives in Ireland.

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