Last year saw this book appearing in everyone’s top read of the year and it has been compared to The Night Circus, which I thought was ok but not my cup of tea, but The Snow Child was said to be better than The Night Circus. With Claire (Word by Word)‘s opinion whom I trust, I resolved to read this in the wintry days.
The book begins with a melancholic mood. Mabel is contemplating suicide.
“Mabel had known there would be silence. That was the point, after all. No infants cooing or wailing. No neighbour children playfully hollering down the lane.”
Jack and Mabel have staked everything on making a fresh start for themselves in homestead ‘at the world’s edge’ in Alaska. The location is near Wolverine River, the year is 1920. They were driven to this frontier to get away from the grief that happens since Mabel lost her baby many years before.
When the first snow falls, their mood unaccountably changes. In a moment of tenderness, the two built a snow girl and dressed her with a red scarf and blue tunic; and Jack has intricately carved a girl’s face onto the snow girl. The next morning, all traces of the snow girl disappeared and Jack sees a small figure of a young child running through the spruce trees, always with a red fox.
Mabel is convinced that the little girl came alive from the snow girl and for many years after that strive to make that little girl hers. Is she real or is she not?
No matter how she turned it over in her mind, Mabel always traced the child’s footsteps back to the night she and Jack had shaped her from snow. Jack had etched her lips and eyes. Mabel had given her mittens and reddened her lips. That night the child was born to them of ice and snow and longings. – page 210
Mystical and chilling….
Snow has a magical and mystical effect on me and I observe without fail that Alaskan writers, Ivey and including David Vann, have a way of sucking the readers into the vast and chilling wilderness of the Alaskan frontier and made me feel chill in my spine and haunted by their novels. Besides the harsh nature of surviving in this part of the world, this book added a little more of heart to have friendly neighbours like George, Esther and their three sons, Garrett who help Jack and Mabel through the winters until they could cultivate their land again in warmer months.
“You did not have to understand miracles to believe in them and in fact Mabel had come to suspect the opposite. To believe, perhaps you had to cease looking for explanations and instead hold the little thing in your hands as long as you were able before it slipped like water between your fingers.” – Mabel, page 210
The little snow girl has a name. Faina. I thought it was unusual and a beautiful name.
At the beginning of the story, Faina seems like a figment of Jack’s and Mabel’s imagination. As all conversations with all the other characters of the book were in quotation marks (“..”), Jack and Mabel conversations with Faina is without quotation marks, creating an effect of surrealism which makes me wonder if Faina is real or an apparition.
Strangely as the story progresses, things became more grounded, and the dreams and fantasies explained, I became more satisfied with the way things are unfolding. I am not great with fantasies and magical surrealism, so I found myself welcoming new twists of events that confirmed my suspicions.
More than a magical story about a snow girl who seems be made of snow and insists of being out there in the wild, I read it to mean a human spirit that longed to be free and could not be tamed; and trying to tame it would inevitably be futile and lead to pain. Even as happy events happened as the story progresses, the readers knew that the happiness is fleeting.
This haunts me. It haunts me that the institution of our world tends to shackle and extinguish the feeling of being alive and the boundless beauty of what life could potentially offer. While Mabel chose to see having a child as the ultimate determinant of happiness and fulfillment there are others who see it differently. It is dichotomous, yet not contradictory. As the two are different paths that lead to the same aim of seeking meaning in our lives.
I am afraid it is my intention to appear enigmatic in my conclusion about this book, as I do not wish to spoil the novel for you. I start the book with the need to suppress my feeling of disbelief of how far people would go to wallow in their grief yet coming out feeling totally haunted for days about a snow girl that appears in winter and the superstition of crossing her red fox.
We all longed for the unattainable sometimes and when we do attain it and subsequently lost it, it remains as the most memorable and beautiful moment of our lives.
Hardback. Publisher: Headline Review 2012; Length: 423 pages; Setting: Alaska, USA. Source: Reading Battle Library. Finished reading on: 6th January 2013.
About the writer:
Eowyn LeMay Ivey works at an independent bookstore in Palmer, Alaska, where she lives with her husband and two daughters.
The tale draws its inspiration from a Russian fairy tale (which appear as “The Little Daughter of the Snow” at the end of the hardback edition).