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The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey


The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
Published in: 2011
Awards: Pulitzer Prize Nominee for Fiction (2013)
Format: audio book narrated by Debra Monk
Reviewed by: Jen
Rating: 3.5 stars
Find/Buy it here:The Snow Child: A Novel

Eowyn Ivey’s debut novel, The Snow Child, is a retelling of a classic Russian fairy tale updated and set in the context of harsh wintery Alpine Alaska. The novel follows Jack and Mabel, a middle-aged childless couple, who have relocated to Alaska several years after losing their only child. Jack and Mabel struggle to survive in the harsh conditions of the Alaskan Alpine. Just when it looks like they won’t make it through the winter, torn apart by hunger and loneliness, they share a moment of playfulness in the snow and create a child out of snow that ultimately changes their lives forever.

The Snow Child is an interesting blend of magical elements and realism, thus why it is often referred to as the quintessential example of magical realism (although it is very different from the magical realism associated with Latin American authors). One reviewer referred to the book as the lovechild of Willa Cather and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The magical elements are subtle and never overpower the overall story. It is a story of survival, friendship, love, loss, and hope.

Overall, I enjoyed the book.  The author provides very rich detail about the surroundings and it’s her ability to capture the environment that makes the story so special. As you read this book, you can almost taste the snowflakes on your tongue and feel the biting wind against your skin. Mabel and Jack are well-developed characters that are hard not to love. The plot is rather simple, but expected as it’s based on a fairy tale and it follows a similar structure. I found the realistic elements to be much more interesting and compelling than the magical elements. The story of the couple’s struggle for survival, and the development of their relationship to each other and to their environment, was personally more interesting than the snow child element. I never really cared too much about Faina and felt disconnected from her storyline outside of how it psychologically impacted the two main characters. I didn’t really like the end of the book perhaps because what I liked about the snow child piece was the ambiguity created between the imaginary and the real and the author broke that ambiguity toward the end of the book. The last 25% of the book was what had me downgrade from 4 stars to 3.5 stars.

A note about the audiobook: I did not like the audio. I listened to this book narrated by Debra Monk and found the narration fairly grating. I have a hard time describing exactly why I disliked her narration but I found the rhythm in her reading irritating and monotonous. If audio is your preferred format, I would recommend listening to a sample before buying it.

Some quotes:

In my old age, I see that life itself is often more fantastic and terrible than the stories we believed as children, and that perhaps there is no harm in finding magic among the trees

To believe, perhaps you had to cease looking for explanations and instead hold the little thing in your hands as long as your were able before it slipped like water between your fingers

All her life she had believed in something more, in the mystery that shape-shifted at the edge of her senses. It was the flutter of moth wings on glass and the promise of river nymphs in the dappled creek beds. It was the smell of oak trees on the summer evening she fell in love, and the way dawn threw itself across the cow pond and turned the water to light

Overall the Snow Child is promising debut novel with some flaws but a subtly haunting and emotionally-evocative read. Recommended for those who like magical realism and fairy tale retellings.

Want to try it for yourself? You can find it here:

Have you read this book? What did you think about it?

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