Eowyn Ivey’s adapted fairy-tale The Snow Child has garnered lots of sparkling reviews. This will not be one of them.
I started out reading with high hopes: beautiful blue cover, sprinkled with snowflakes; a historical novel set in Alaska in the 1920s; a child who appeared out of nowhere, possibly carved by the snow… Although I do have some niggling problems with magical realism – let fantasy be fantasy and reality be reality, okay?? – I had to read this for my university course, and I’ll admit that I was happy for my opinion to be changed.
But, unfortunately, it wasn’t. The plot follows a middle-aged childless couple Mabel and Jack, whose recent move to the wilderness of Alaska has caused their already fragile relationship to disintegrate. Desperate for a child, they are both wary – and delighted – when they discover the mysterious Faina on their homestead. She’s young, reticent and shy – with a home in the mountains and skin that could cool frost.
Although I don’t profess to be the know-all purveyor of novelistic taste, I feel like I do know enough to pin-point the basic weaknesses of The Snow Child.
Mabel and Jack are – or could be – interesting characters. A sudden, rather inexplicable move to vastly harsher conditions than the couple were used to; a socially mismatched love that surely must have raised lots of questions. But Ivey, despite creating a potentially rich, fascinating backstory for her two protagonists, doesn’t bother to extend much beyond the surface. The characters occasionally veer into inconsistency and their thoughts – apart from the very standard base-level of motivations – remain opaque, featureless. Suffice to say, more background – to actually grapple with the couple’s history and complex relationship – would not have gone amiss. It’s a pretty startling fact that, for a novel of nearly four hundred pages, not a lot actually happens.
And, yes, it’s amazing how Ivey manages to describe snow so often and so differently each time; and, yes, every now and then the novel is peppered with genuinely lovely turns-of-phrase – but, on the whole, the description tends rather towards the formulaic, the unsurprising. I do not understand the plethora of dazzling reviews for The Snow Child and I probably never will but – really! – don’t bother. The ending will disappoint you anyway.
Have you ever read The Snow Child? Do you disagree with my review? I’d love to hear your thoughts – let me know in the comments below!