What I thought:
Several years ago, I read and subsequently fell in love with a book called The Snow Child. It was one of these books that felt like it had a little bit of magic sprinkled between the pages and one I still think of even now. I had high hopes for this book and although I found it incredibly well written and still has the components of love story, history, adventure and magical realism, it didn’t quite have the same impact that The Snow Child did, for me.
Told through letters, diary entries and newspaper articles, this is the story of an exploration to chart Alaska in 1885 once the Americans had bought it from Russia. Colonel Allen Forrester leads the expedition of 2 men, an Indian woman and a dog through snow, ice, uncharted terrain and hostile natives. The harsh and unforgiving landscape is the perfect setting for this tale of hardship and survival so much so that I was able to feel the bitter cold and fatigue as they fight their way through melting ice, haunted valleys and unforgiving storms.
Waiting behind in the barracks is Allen’s wife, Sophie, who found out she was pregnant just before the start of the expedition. A woman ahead of her time, Sophie is passionate about nature and learns photography rather than keeping house, much to the suspicion and disdain of the other army wives. I loved the relationship between Allen and Sophie; accepting of one another and encouraging of passions and talents; it was real, and vivid and tangible.
I found the magic brought about by Ivey’s lyrical and poetic prose in The Snow Child not as evident in To the Bright Edge of the World, sadly. That’s not to say that there wasn’t a beautiful and evocative quality to the writing – there was, it just wasn’t as abundant in my opinion and while I am equally happy with a character driven novel (person or landscape) as with a plot-driven book, this didn’t quite manage to have the forward momentum for me at times.
What I did enjoy was the North American mythology but I do wish it had played a more important part as I really felt that it added something special and different.
I think I wanted to love this book more than I did. And that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it – I did, very much. Perhaps it was a case of great expectations and it didn’t quite hit the mark. Would I recommend? Yes, I absolutely would.
In three words:
Magical, spellbinding, beautiful
What I thought:
This book is truly magical. It hooked me from page one and did not let me go until I closed the final pages, and it was with a heavy heart that I said goodbye to this wonderful place and its small cast of characters.
Jack and Mabel arrive in Alaska in 1920 to make a new home for themselves and to get away from the terrible heartache of losing their only child at birth ten years before. Their sense of loss and grief is palpable and their sadness at realising that they are also losing each other is felt clearly through those opening pages. Just as things seem to be coming to a head, Jack and Mabel – in a rare moment of companionship – build a snowgirl together when the first snows of that winter arrive at their homestead. They dress it in mittens and a scarf and use the juice of berries to give some colour to its lips. The next morning, not only is their snowgirl gone, but there are little footprints leading away from the mound of snow and the couple start to be convinced that they have seen a little girl in a blue coat dashing between the trees in the snow, followed by a red fox.
What follows is a truly captivating and spell-binding tale of a little girl, who we come to find out is called Faina, and her place in the rebuilding of the lives of Jack and Mabel. As the elderly couple open their hearts once again, Mabel remembers a book that her father used to read to her when she was a child: a snow child that appears at the house of a childless couple and, despite many re-tellings and different endings over the years, always ends with the little girl melting back into the snow, and Mabel comes to dread the day that Faina will leave them too. Faina herself is not quite tamable and always slightly out of reach of the couple and it is through her that the reader is treated to such a feast of beauty and nature and landscape. Just wondferful.
Istill can’t quite believe that this is a debut novel and beacuse of this, I cannot wait to see what else she comes up with in the future. The Snow Child isn’t released until 12th February 2012 but I just had to review it right now and yell that you MUST, MUST, MUST get yourself a copy of this book when it is out – run to the shops!
Verdict: Wow, just wow. My favourite book of 2011 and I am head over heels in love with it.
(Source: I received a review copy of this book from Amazon Vine)