Hello again from the Mobile Library Reading Group blog! Here's three more reviews from our members - some of them different takes on books reviewed by others last month. If you've read them, please add your reviews to the comments section of this blog post. We'd love to hear your thoughts whether you are a member of our group or not.
The Snow Child - Eowyn Ivey
Reviewed by Margaret H
This is an enchanting, magical and mysterious weave of a fairy tale and the very human story of love and loss, survival and happiness against odds, in the setting of a magnificent landscape. In their grief and despair at the loss of their only baby, Jack and Mabel move to make a new life together in old time Alaska. They love each other but are drifting apart. Mabel attempts suicide, Jack is nearly dead from the amount of backbreaking work he does. Then one night, they build a snow child and here is the magic. The child seems to be alive, and suddenly here is a child to love. She comes and goes but she brings the love back between Jack and Mabel and allows them to accept sharing their lives. The Bensons are the full of life family that are the other characters in this tale and Jack and Mabel finally accept they belong in Alaska and will remain there. Faina continues to be a mystery but Jack feels she is real as he buries her father and spots where she lives. Mabel is enchanted by the fairy tale come to life in Faina. You are left still with the magic of never having it really explained.
There are no jarring notes in any of the characters; they are all painted with kind and generous brush strokes by the author. Jack and Mabel go from a desolate despairing couple to deeply loved and loving neighbours, parents and grandparents. Faina grows up, but never gives up her solitary existence even though she becomes pregnant eventually and marries. She is a magical sprite of the snow and real child/woman at the same time. You want to nurture and protect her as Mabel does but she will not be contained. Even her own child cannot hold her fast to the real world. The Bensons are a wonderful family, very down to earth which is how they can help Jack and Mabel to survive. They don’t believe in Faina until they can meet her. Even then, all the conversations with her are written without any punctuation marks, leaving you to feel that Faina communicates in thoughts rather than real spoken words. It is all exquisitely written.
I loved it, I always loved fairytales as a child and this felt like an adult version of one. The plot takes you from despair and desolation to joyous fulfilment of family and a life style that is completely at one with landscape. It is full of ghostly mystery but is still totally credible and all consuming read. The story unfolds at a near perfect pace. Some parts are told in deep detail, some parts are fast-forwarded but it all proceeds in a very involving way. It is also a love letter to Alaska! The changing seasons of the country also alter and change the mood to match the feelings of the characters. So as Jack and Mabel become happier and at one with the landscape, so the country seems to become less bitter and dangerous to live. They and their predicaments are very real as survival in Alaska is easily understood as a very hard life to live. As characters they don’t remind me of anything, but the emotions that run through the book are very real and understandable. I just loved it. The whole book is a fairytale, it took me back to how I used to love the wonder and magic of fairytales as a child and also how the dark side of them that is there too can be so terrifying. The ending is deep grief, balanced by great joy. I think you can only accept it just as it is. This is Eowyn Ivey’s first book, I await others!! I would give this book 5 stars out of 5.
My Daughter, My Mother - Annie Murray
Reviewed by Su R
Joanne and Sooky meet at a toddler group in Birmingham 1984. They become friends and share the difficulties of their lives and those of their mothers, and how they all overcome them. The characters change as they face up to their difficult pasts and realise how these have moulded their present lives. It was credible but often felt forced in order to tell the story the author wanted us to hear. Fairly fast and predictable, but with some interesting and quite deep delivery into the past lives and times of the characters. The characters seem quite real, but also quite idealised, I felt close to Sooky as my background wasn’t in Birmingham, and her identity struggles were familiar.
Yes, the realisation that traumatic events in the past have a real and often devastating effect on behaviour in the present, but also that this can be faced and changed when the feelings have been acknowledged. The ending was almost too satisfying as all the loose ends got tied up. I felt sorry for Fred – he seemed to end up with a raw deal!! I haven’t read any other books by Annie Murray, but would definitely recommend this one. I would give this book 3 stars out of 5.
Boy A - Jonathan Trigell
Reviewed by Margaret H
It mirrors the tragic story of Jamie Bulger. We meet Jack as he is released back in to society secretly after spending all his young life in institutions and prisons. He is supported by the child-like faith his support officer, Terry, has in him to be a functioning member of society. Everything is difficult for Jack as he hasn’t had a life yet and he suddenly has a freedom to experience what for others are ordinary things. Of course, inevitably events catch up with him and through the unrelenting spite and resentfulness of Zeb, Terry’s son, he is exposed once again to the anger of society for his wicked childhood crime of the murder of a young girl. Without Boy B, you feel sure he would never have had the nerve to do this but there are many influences on him leading him inexorably to this path in his life. Jack starts very warily and as events progress it might be alright. He lives very much in the present as his experiences unfold. Every character is understandable as the author tracks their thought process. I didn’t really feel a strong like or dislike for any one as they are all just people at the mercy of their own wants and character flaws. Zeb brings it all down eventually but even he is understandable in his rage at his neglectful father Terry. It’s funny that you never really feel revulsion for Boy A, it is more a head shaking sadness that any of it ever happened. Such an evil mix of circumstances makes it all feel so inevitable.
It is a very creditable plotline, having basis in reality. Boy A haunted and hunted by demons, one of which is the press which hounds him mercilessly. His life was ruined while he was still innocent which seems the source of the tragedy, the murder of the girl is strangely slightly less emotive. It unfolds with a sense of hopefulness that then becomes impending doom. I approached this book with a certain amount of reluctance as I still cannot bear to think about the fate of Jamie Bulger. The story progresses at a decent rate. Whilst dipping back into the past to give the platform for what is happening.
The characters are all very real in all the range of human weaknesses, impulses and good intentions. The older I get, the more I see the folk wisdom in ‘no good deed goes unpunished’! The interaction of the characters does make for compulsive reading. The whole book is somewhat uncomfortable reading because of the subject matter. It is very a very difficult subject to write about and Jonathan Trigell writes it very well in deed. If anything. It reinforced to me how your life can get out of control and take a totally different path as a result of events and people that you don’t know about, impacting on you. And how people can work against people for no particular good reason, just spite. The ending was rather escapist, leaving you uncertain as to the actual fate of Boy A but feeling he jumps and disappears. Frozen in time like the last still of ‘ Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.’ I would rate this book two stars out of five.
If you have read any of these books, please add your review below. There will be more book reviews each month and our big meet up will be in the new Library of Birmingham this autumn.