The Snow Child

I realised recently that my friend and fellow writer Anstey Spraggan hardly likes any books at all. We talk about books a lot and she hates them all. I think there were about two books that she liked all last year (I can remember one, but not the other…). So when she said that she not only loved Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child, but that she wanted to write about it, I welcomed her to my blog… Over to Anstey:

How many times, when your children were small, did old ladies stop you in the street to tell you, ‘They’re only lent to you, dear’. Never has it come so true as in The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (pronounced A-o-win, by the way).

Jack and Mabel move to Alaska after decades of childlessness marked, just once, by an almost-child who is lost long before his due date. The ghost of this little child echoes between them, widening a chasm that threatens to separate them forever.

The debate of the book is the gap between reality and magic, at first asking the characters – and the reader – to decide upon a truth but, as the book goes on recognising that some realities are different to others and some magic is deeper than simple conjuring. Faina – the girl who arrives with the snow – will certainly only be lent to Jack and Mabel but, if you learn enough from your time together and if you discover the meaning of love, does it matter?

Everything that’s required to make a modern classic is here: we sit on the edge of our seats willing Garrett not to make the human error we know he’s going to; we long for a capable friend like Esther with all her skills and the dependable George behind her; we back Jack and Mabel and their attempts to survive in the harsh Alaskan wilderness and root for them all the way, sharing in their joy and their pain. These characters are so vividly drawn that they quickly take on a life of their own. With exceptional skill Ivey adds in Alaska itself – the trees, the animals, the landscape and the snow – as characters in their own right. Once you read the bio on Ivey’s blog, you can start to understand how she connects so fully with the wilderness and beauty of an Alaskan lifestyle. For the first time in my life, reading an author’s blog has added to my enjoyment of their book and given it a whole new depth. Not that it needed one: The Snow Child had me enchanted from ‘Mabel had known there would be silence’.

Ivey’s charm comes in that, beyond living in a way that is very close to the life Jack and Mabel have and being able to paint it in a very real and plausible way, she pulls off a masterstroke of language in her manipulation of grammar. The choice that Ivey makes, in her use of layout, adds another dimension to the construction of her story. For me, her manipulation of grammar is unique in that it actually changes the meaning of the entire book (once you’ve worked out what it is). I saw a comment on Twitter about this point but the tweeter had only clocked one half of the idea, reading one layer down but not seeing the bigger picture (to say more will spoil it). In The Road Cormac McCarthy uses points of punctuation to emphasise the new rules of his world with fantastic effect, Ivey takes this one step further and uses punctuation as silent narrative that actually changes the story.

Eowyn Ivey was named after a character from Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings. In The Snow Child, the world of magic she creates is far closer to our own than Middle Earth – in Ivey’s kingdom, the impossible and the unlikely are just a whisper from the everyday.

Verdict (from the notorious book hater): a bewitching story that I can’t wait to read for a second time.

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