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?
Two things have put me off reading this book since Claire’s review over at Word By Word inspired me to pick it up. Firstly it’s a bestseller which I rarely find satisfying and it was also part of the Richard and Judy Book Club, made apparent by the sticker on the front.
Despite all that I picked it up, peeled off the sticker as well and have finally and belatedly gotten around to enjoying some suitably seasoned sustenance.
The Snow Child is one of those books that captured me from the very first page and as a result I took the time to savour the words and atmosphere. I eventually spent a good three weeks doing so as I enjoyed it so much.
The tale itself is no rush to be to told, based as it is, on a Russian fairy tale, it does have that timeless quality that such stories have. The blending of the traditional folk tale with the harsh realism of life is well-balanced; the isolation, the weather and the ambiguities that run through the book, the longing, the loss and the happiness make the book a real treat for this time of year especially as the weather closes in.
What impresses me most is that the book held my attention for all of its 400 pages even though there isn’t a lot to it, once the characters have been explored and the uncertainties laid out, the story keeps moving hurriedly towards its conclusion, yet I still enjoyed it despite this. Perhaps it was the mirroring of the traditional tales that hark back to childhood and through time that held sway over me.
Despite the lack of depth, the themes that this simple story focus upon are done really well and left open enough for contemplation about relationships, life and nature providing both good and bad but needing to be experienced. It shows the power of community of love and of the unexpected, whilst retaining an air of the intangible.
Love and devotion, the devastating hope and fear contained in a woman’s swelling womb – these were left unspoken.
Interestingly (and this is only the mildest of mild spoilers), the Snow Child herself is given no speech marks when she speaks but unlike other books where it is just plain lazy to leave them out, it is more a delicate signpost to question what it is you are actually reading about and so for this reason won’t complain like I usually would do.
For a début novel this is a strong effort and it’s easy to see why it appeals to so many people, it isn’t a book that ‘changed my life’ as people are fond of saying but it is a story I found satisfying and will keep on my shelf to reread in a future winter. This would make a good Christmas present – or treat for yourself – as well, if you happen to be on the look out for one.