I must admit, I struggled with the first third of this book: it seemed to be trudging through a depressing scene, the characters seemed to be stock types and I couldn’t see how the overall story would take another two-thirds of the novel without becoming boring.
It took a while, but I did get into this book: Mabel and Jack’s initial tragedy wasn’t well-explored or particularly emotional in my view, but their link with Faina grew from being a retelling of a fairytale to being enchanting in its own right. The thawing of their relationship, and the gentleness with which Faina was portrayed, enabled Ivey to portray the growth of her characters alongside the life of their snow child, progressing slowly at first before rushing to adulthood and full bloom.
I think it was the final portion of the book that really began to capture my interest: the pace changes completely, and things race towards a heartbreaking conclusion. The conflict of emotions was particularly fascinating: Jack’s strained relationship with Garrett particularly so. The only disappointment here was the drop-off of Esther. She was only re-introduced when functionally needed, rather than being a constant emotional source, and it is for this reason that I cannot get beyond seeing Esther as a stereotypical mother, doing everything behind the scenes and chatting people into happiness.
Asides from this, occasional slips in style were slightly deprecating to the characters Ivey had created: for instance, having a rustic, practical character like Jack announce that he doesn’t ‘precisely’ know his location jars with what we are told about Mabel being the well-spoken member of the couple, and Jack speaking for necessity only. There are more examples that conflict with what we think we understand about the characters, and whilst you can get past it, it bristles you for a moment.
However, this book is enjoyable and readable. Although a bit of a slow-burner in parts one and two, it is worth the journey to see the final, raw scene, where the snow brings joy and sorrow simultaneously, allowing us to see that despite its hardships, life can continue and still be beautiful.
(Preview for http://www.waterstones.com. Book available 16th February 2012.)