I wasn’t surprised to learn, upon finishing The Snow Child and reading the author bio, that Eowyn Ivey lives in Alaska. Her prose is steeped with the cold of the place – with the snow and the chill and the wind and the flurries. The descriptions are so atmospheric I found them reminiscent of Hannah Kent’s Iceland – the setting really becomes a character in its own right.
There is a lot of description in this novel but they are details to savor – the kind of writing that’s meant to be lolled around on the tongue, read aloud so you can hear the rise and fall of it. Ivey is so proficient at this – her words are pristine, pretty and perfectly placed. How does a debut writer achieve this sort of grace? Her refinement seems practiced, but isn’t.
This book is a joy to read for the writing alone, but then of course there is the plot – a cautionary tale about obsession born of longing. Mabel and Jack are childless when they decide to build a snow girl. The next night they see a young girl with ash-blond hair and a flaxen face wearing the same hat and mittens they’d placed upon their creation. Though she is skittish at first, little by little she comes into their lives and Mabel and Jack can’t help but think they summoned her from the snow. For a good while, the reader wonders, too – is she real or imaginary? An apparition or a person? Are Mabel and Jack crazy or have they simply been lucky enough to love a child?
The plot goes further even than this – there are a lot vacillations for a story built with such melodious language. As much as the snow child wants to believe she belongs in the snow, as much as she refuses to give in to the comforts and trappings of this world, eventually even she succumbs to the emotion that dismantles every defense: romantic love. How can she reconcile her flesh-and-blood desire with her longing to be among the elements? Sacrifices will have to made.
The Snow Child is about falling in love and letting go, and about parenting children, even if they are not your own. It is about the push and pull of the many opposing forces that drive us and in the end it is about listening to your heart. Pick up this gorgeously written novel – you’ll want to discuss the ending when you’re done!