Magical realism is not a genre I’m that familiar with and when I picked up a copy of The Snow Child at the library I wasn’t aware that it was in this category until I started reading it and was a few chapters in. I was expecting a fairytale retelling and in some ways it was, but it took on a life of its own and added a heavy dose of gritty reality. Gritty, but wondrous, and beautifully written.
Generally I’m unimpressed with much modern writing that tries to pass as literature. It often feels forced or clumsy but Ivey’s writing was poetic, and like that of a naturalist. I could picture the Alaskan landscape of the 1920’s that she described and sense the wild danger of the place.
The story is loosely based on a Russian fairy tale that Mabel, one of the main protagonists, remembered from her childhood and its theme is repeated throughout the story, so in one sense I felt that I was reading a fairytale, but the realistic setting tripped me up. As I said, magical realism isn’t something I’ve had much experience with so I spent most of the book trying to work out what on earth was going on. The ending was sort of expected but it also left me up in the air.
BUT...I still loved the story and it lingers in my thoughts. A little unsolved mystery.
‘...the land was vast before her...No fields or fences, homes or roads; not a single living soul as far as she could see in any direction. Only wilderness.'
'It was beautiful, Mabel knew, but it was a beauty that ripped you open and scoured you clean so that you were left helpless and exposed, if you lived at all.'
Ivey very sensitively portrayed a marriage that was worn out by the burden of loss and hardship; a couple that had waited years to communicate their pain about the past to each other, only to find that their own personal view of the situation had been so skewed. It's a strange thing, this blocking of the heart and how we build up our own narrative without understanding the intent of another.
The friendship between two women of very diverse natures and backgrounds played a major part in the narrative as well and was one of my favourite themes in the book.
The idea of fading, often using the colour gray, recurred a few times in the story and described not only a physical aspect but also that of the soul - a general wearing out and despondency of spirit.
‘...she spotted a few strands of silver in his reddish-brown beard. When had they appeared? So he, too, was graying. Each of them fading away without the other’s notice.’
‘Everything was sparkled and sharp as if the world were new, hatched that very morning from an icy egg.’
The Snow Child is a poignant story of friendship, marriage, childlessness, love, loss, grief, beauty and nature. Due to the nature of some of the themes, this book is best for an adult reader. The magical realism of the story wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea but I think it's a very worthwhile read.