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Wednesday, 30 November 2011

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

For the time of year you can't do better than this stunning debut by Eowyn Ivey. The Snow Child is a beautifully written novel of longing and loss, and the battle of human beings to make their place at the edge of habitable nature.

In the wilds of Alaska Jack and Mabel build a snowman - a girl - on the night of the first snowfall. After this a little girl mysteriously enters their life. From the book I gather the Russian myth of the snow girl was collected by Arthur Ransome (of Swallows and Amazon's fame), and this myth has been skilfully interleaved with the narrative in Ivey's book.

The tale borders on the mythic and shifts between what is real and what is imaginary, and this is what gives it its uncanny power. The snow child herself is like nature, not easily tamed, and for most of the book we are not sure whether they are taming the girl or nature herself. For example Jack and Mabel's speech is in speech marks, but the snow girl's is not. This gives a sense in which we almost imagine we are hearing her voice, that it half-blends with the background. Masterful.

The book portrays the realities of survival, the killing of animals and the sheer hard work with an unflinching eye as Jack and Mabel eke out an existence where neighbours can mean the difference between survival and failure. I enjoyed Esther and George, the rumbustious neighbours, and the portrayal of Garrett, the boy who turns into a man before our eyes.

For me the star of the book is the landscape, reflected beautifully in the bare-boned prose.

Very highly recommended.


  1. It sounds lovely, Dee. I'll look out for it.

  2. PS I've now ordered it from Amazon Vine. Thanks for the idea, Dee.

  3. Hi Frances, yes it's a lovely read.People who enjoyed The Personal History of Rachel DuPree might like this.

  4. Dee, I'm half-way through the novel now, and while I usually don't like any kind of fantasy (hated Lord of the Rings!) I'm absolutely loving it. Thanks so much for the recommendation.

  5. i loved this book so much made me cry at the end such a good book

  6. When I read books that leave me unsettled, I always wonder if I was smart enough for it. I do like that fact that this has middle aged characters!

    Dwayne Johnston (Seattle DUI Attorneys)