This week, we chat about Part 1 (to page 113) of Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child. This debut novel from the Alaskan bookseller captivates Alex, Lora and I with its intriguing mix of realism and magic — and, in particular, the character of the little girl.
Laurie: Hello! Welcome to the wintery world of Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child!
Lora: I’m loving this book!
Alex: I’m really enjoying it, too, although I’m still not sure where it falls in terms of magic realism rating. Some elements are so raw and physical and others so mystical. It’s very intriguing.
Laurie: The magical part is not as prevalent as it is in some magical realism books. But it is there and very intriguing.
Alex: I like that it’s not in your face. It’s making me read to try to figure it out.
Laurie: Really, until you get to the end of the first part, you have no clue how this child got out there.
Lora: Yes, there’s a nice subtlety to it, isn’t there?
Alex: I know! I was so shocked by that.
Laurie: There is all that is mysterious about her: how silent she is, how she survives, how the snow appears when she’s around, how the frost showed up on the window.
Alex: I was sure there was something Chronicles of Narnia about this and then it went all thriller.
Lora: I absolutely loved that scene — the description of how the frost magically forms and there’s no explanation.
Alex: It was a lovely, magical detail, as were the plants, etc., in her hair.
Lora: Yes. And yet I found that sinister tone kind of sneaks in towards the end of Part 1.
Laurie: It brings it more back to earth, doesn’t it, what happened at the end, and grounds it, yet you still don’t know how the things that are magical are achieved, do you? I mean she hunts and lives off the land and everything, she’s not a fairy tale nymph or something…
Lora: All of a sudden this magic is abruptly interrupted with a very real dilemma.
Laurie: Yes, that’s it. Brought back to hard reality. And it’s that juxtaposition of the location and the hardships with this strange little existence that’s so interesting. And I like that it has a dark edge, like a real fairy tale.
Alex: They have left us with both avenues open in terms of possibility. Is she a forest nymph or is she a real girl? And the couple seems to find living out there so tough.
Laurie: It sounds scary —life in Alaska, I mean.
Alex: And so silent.
Lora: The last book I read that took place in such a climate was The Shining!
Laurie: Really scary! Maybe Jack will show up!
Lora: It is a great setting, though, for this story. Snow can be so magical looking but can turn on you quickly.
Laurie: And there’s the feeling of physical and mental isolation that Ivey creates.
Alex: Yes, Jack and Mabel seem to have been striving for something that the little girl makes them want to turn their backs on. They seem to have embraced silence themselves and yet when they see it in the girl, they can’t handle it. They love the anonymity and quiet life, yet when they meet her everything changes.
Laurie: She makes them realize that they need to embrace life and all that it encompasses, I think. And reach out to others. The Bensons help, too.
Alex: I love the Bensons.
Lora: Me, too! Such great characters. Ethel has that wonderful boisterous personality.
Alex: And Garrett warms to Jack and teaches him to hunt.
Laurie: Re the little girl, it’s as if their longing has given life to something. Whether magically or just opening them up to something.
Alex: It could be a manifestation of their desires.
Lora: There’s that very real story of this lonely couple facing a very real harsh winter, and at first I wondered if only Jack and Mabel could see the girl, but the signs of her life are there.
Laurie: Yes, there’s the matter of the footprints.
Lora: Exactly. I love that Ivey chose to introduce her that way.
Alex: Except when other people are looking….
Laurie: Yes, the snow always conveniently ends up covering her tracks. But is she doing that? It’s sort of inexplicable.
Alex: Maybe because she might not be real!?!? And that’s why when they tried to show Mrs. Benson the tracks, they’d disappeared. I don’t think we’re supposed to know yet. Maybe we will never know…
Lora: I keep flipping back and forth as the story progresses. One page I’m sure the girl can’t be real, then the next, I’m convinced she is.
Laurie: It’s all a mystery — at least so far, anyway! But it is a mystery, don’t you think? I’m buying into that, even with the ending of Part 1.
Lora: It’s a mystery, a love story, a fairy tale…. So many things!
Alex: It’s perfectly mysterious — that’s an art.
Laurie: It is: the contrast of the hardships of life and this magical possibility are wonderful. And there’s the idea that perhaps the hardships gave birth to the magic, which is what Esther thinks.
Alex: Yes! Because there’s no other way for life to continue — it’s a necessity.
Laurie: It’s like daydreams brought to life. We should all be so lucky.
Lora: I love that Ivey was raised in Alaska, too. It makes the whole story feel that much more authentic.
Laurie: And she’s so like Esther, I think, in many ways. We need to ask her if she thinks that. But she shot a bear just like Esther. And she looks like 15, but has two children, one a teen, I think. And shot a bear!!!
Lora: What an interesting woman!
Alex: Wow! That’s incredible! And what about the moose Jack kills?
Laurie: The great big freakin’ moose! That the girl led him to!! Magically?
Lora: A Jim Dandy of a moose!
Alex: That was really quite graphic, them carving it up. Another example of this ethereal experience juxtaposed with a very physical description.
Laurie: Survival, and what they do to survive and the matter-of-fact way it’s treated. And the way the girl is matter of fact, with her little gifts of dead animals, no? Did that surprise you about her?
Alex: No, not when I found out what was under the tarp.
Lora: That’s how it’s always been for her, I think. It didn’t surprise me. It’s just the way life is out there.
Laurie: Did you feel that if she was magic, she would survive on snow or something?
Lora: I think that would be taking things a bit too far…
Laurie: But there are other inexplicable things, so would it be? It’s an interesting choice Ivey has made: magical in some ways, not in others?
Alex: I love that tightrope!!
Lora: That’s a good point, actually. The girl can create blizzards and survive below zero on her own but still has to hunt to eat.
Laurie: That’s it exactly. Other thoughts on Part 1?
Lora: Just that I really, really want to meet Ivey!
Laurie: Yes! She would be fun.
Alex: I love that name.
Laurie: It is great, isn’t it? You almost need to be a creative type with that name! And she is warrior-like!
Alex: Creative and able to survive in the bush.
Laurie: A bear fighter!
Lora: Yes! See? So many reasons to meet her.
Laurie: Well, next week then, we shall talk about Part 2 of The Snow Child, my fellow wanna-be bear fighters!
Lora: I’m eager to figure this girl out!
Alex: And to find out is she real or isn’t she?
Laurie: We shall see. Till next week!
Lora: Ta ta for now!
Alex: A bientôt!