I have just arrived back home after a drive from Yorkshire, where I spent the weekend. As I left, the sky was clear and blue but as I drove down the country, it was as if I was travelling into Autumn. Heavy rain was battering the windscreen and leaves were being blown across the road. Even the trees appeared to turn from greens and yellows to ambers and golds as I drove. It made such an impression on me as it is normally driving north that feels like this, not south!
Anyway, I digress. I think the seasons were on my mind as I had just spent a lovely Saturday afternoon in the company of The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. In this book the seasons, in particular winter, are an overarching concern for all the characters as they means survival, or not. The first snows and the coming of winter are beautifully described in this book and I got utterly lost in it, so much so that I ignored my poor parents for a good two hours whilst I finished it yesterday! I was surprised to find it was a first novel as the pace, plot, characterisation and imagery of this tale were all wonderful in my opinion. In addition to the fairy tale heritage I mentioned in my last post, this novel also made me think about the bond between parents and children. Both Jack and Mabel are completely transformed when Faina enters their lives. Faina also, although always a mystery, is changed by their love. Not having any children myself, it really opened my eyes to that kind of transformative, unconditional love that I’d never thought too much about before. Ivey manages to keep this love unsentimental and realistic as well which I thought was a huge achievement. I think this is done by introducing the slight pessimistic, brooding tone of loss that also runs through the book. Mabel accepts that Faina, one day, will leave and this is always an undercurrent in her thoughts, and eventually Jack’s too.
This novel also made me think back to the assertion (see my earlier post) that the American novel is summed up by the idea of ‘Frontier’. The ‘Frontier’ is certainly a central image and idea in this book, along with the love between parents and children I have already mentioned. Mabel and Jack move to Alaska in their middle age for a new start and to unite together in a battle against the elements. By taming their patch of earth, with the help of their new friends, Jack and Mabel triumph against the harshness of an Alaskan winter and this gives them both self-respect and a deepening in their own love for each other, despite being married for many years. Again, Ivey managed to portray this in an aspirational, almost romantic way, but steers clear of sentimentality, with no illusions about the harshness and life-threatening struggle for survival that Alaska presents.
I would thoroughly recommend The Snow Child, especially with our own winter arriving here in the UK. I enjoyed reading about Alaska so much that I am now going to follow-up the books on the rather wonderful Alaskan reading list at the back of this book. Why don’t more publishers do this – I think it is a great idea!