Renee at It’s Book Talk began this meme as a way to share old favourites, as well as books that were published over a year ago. Not to mention those that are languishing on the to be read pile for whatever reason.
This week I want to share my review for The Snow Child. I was browsing in the book shop when the cover caught my eye. I hadn’t heard of the author and it was only when I looked inside I realised this was a debut novel published in 2012. The cover and the blurb sold it and it was a 5* read for me.
Alaska, the 1920s. Jack and Mabel have staked everything on a fresh start in a remote homestead, but the wilderness is a stark place, and Mabel is haunted by the baby she lost many years before. When a little girl appears mysteriously on their land, each is filled with wonder, but also foreboding: is she what she seems, and can they find room in their hearts for her?
Jack and Mabel, a middle-aged couple, have relocated to Alaska after Mabel suffered a still birth. With no other children and a desperate longing which cannot now be fulfilled they needed a complete change of scene. It’s a struggle to survive in the wilderness on their homestead and Mabel is desperate to help Jack in the fields as a release for the utter misery she can’t escape when confined to the cabin. Working the land is hard, physical and unrelenting labour and Jack refuses, wanting to spare Mabel. Life in Alaska can be cruel and unforgiving, not at all how Mabel had envisioned it.
She had imagined that in the Alaska wilderness silence would be peaceful, like snow falling at night, air filled with promise but no sound, but that was not what she found.
Although ill at ease and slightly awkward in company and thinking she wanted solitude, meeting their nearest neighbours began to thaw Mabel’s heart and fill the distance that had separated her and Jack since the loss of their child. During the first snowfall that winter Mabel even cajoled Jack into helping her build a snowman, which turned into a snow girl as they worked. They shaped the snow into a child with skirts, yellow grass for her hair and a face sculpted by Jack’s pocketknife. Mabel added red mittens, scarf and berry juice to colour her lips.
The next morning as Jack fetched logs for the fire he noticed a flash of blue and red as a little figure dashed between the trees. And then he saw the snow girl he and Mabel had built was reduced to a heap of trampled snow, the scarf and mittens gone. When a mysterious child, they eventually learn her name is Faina, begins to visit them during each winter Mabel and Jack can’t decide whether she’s real or if she’s a fairytale child who disappears with the warmer weather. The child has a dreamlike, mysterious quality enhanced by the lack of quotation marks during her conversations, which keep her distant in a way, yet she does form attachments.
She turned the sketch pad towards the child, not knowing what reaction to expect. The child took in a breath and clasped her hands in delight.
Do you like it?
Oh, yes! Is that me? Is that what I look like?
Have you never seen yourself, child?
The girl shook her head.
Based on Snegurochka (The Snow Maiden), a Russian folklore tale, this is the author’s debut novel. The Snow Child is an evocative and atmospheric tale of love, endurance, hope and overcoming grief. It’s interesting to note that at the beginning of the story when Mabel is so filled with melancholy she sees Alaska as a bleak, colourless and harsh land. As her world expands, and especially after Faina arrives, she begins to appreciate the allure and rugged charm of her surroundings. Although the reality of life in such a remote wilderness is not as charming, quite gruesome in fact, at times with the slaughter of the animals they need to survive the winter.
The sense of place is captured wonderfully, Alaska is a place I’m drawn to for some reason, although I have never been. The characters are portrayed so well I could picture them immediately and the developing relationship between the two families, the moral and practical support given and accepted, is touching.
I really had no idea what to expect from this book, it was the cover that caught my eye initially, but I’m very glad I bought it. The narrative pulled me in and along effortlessly. It’s character driven, no fast paced action, just a beautifully written and enchanting story with the atmosphere of a fairy tale running through. Quite haunting and poignant. I was never quite sure initially if Faina was a real child, a magical being or a figment of Jack and Mabel’s imagination. They wanted desperately to believe and the enigma which surrounds Faina is fundamental to the story.