Mabel and Jack move to the middle of the wilderness for a new start, trying to get past the grief at their childlessness. Their struggle against the elements and to overcome the distance that has grown between them fades briefly for a night where they madly make a child out of snow. And soon Faina appears, a child seemingly at home in the winter. She becomes a beloved part of their family, but her mystery, origin and future cause tension for their family and for Garrett, the son of their only friends, who falls in love with her.
This is one of my favourite books I have read in the last couple of years! I love the mixture of myth and reality, the immersion into and interest of living in the harsh climate, the beautifully painted characters and the thread of mystery that runs through the book.
I love stories based on fairytales, and this is a marvellous one. To turn a short story into a whole novel is a challenge, but Ivey does it wonderfully by filling it out with extremely real and intriguing characters who are full of humanity. She takes the story and makes it her own; using it to paint a marvellous Alaskan landscape and to bring her characters to life, whose emotions and longings become extremely real. I love particularly the contrast between Mabel, who is private, quiet, conflicted and constrained, with her friend Esther, who brings warmth, sound, pragmatism and friendship.
The magic realism, too, is executed to perfection. You constantly wonder if it really is magic; if there could possibly be a real explanation. Whether it is all leading to what seems to be an inevitable conclusion if you know the story – and, really, if you do not. Cleverly, we never see inside Faina’s head as much as we do the other characters, helping to preserve the mystery – is she actually a child of the snow?
But not only does the book take us into a magic world but to the isolation of the Alaskan mountains. Reading of the fight for survival, the landscape and it’s effect on people was fascinating and compelling: it is humanity stretched to the limit, creating a space where the strangeness of the story seems almost plausible.
I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Go and read it, everyone!
Thanks Bookbridgr and Headline for my review copy.