A few weeks ago, I was in Brussels, staying with my son and his family. I woke up early, when it was still dark, and settled down to finish the book I'd been reading. It was The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey; it's about a couple living in Alaska who have lost one child and never been able to have another. Then, out of the snowy landscape, a girl appears. Is she real, or have they created her out of their need?As I finished it, I glanced out of the window. In the light of a street lamp, I saw that the soft drizzle was turning first to sleet, then to snow. I didn't expect it to settle, but it did. It was a magical moment - it was as if the book itself had conjured up the snow, just as the couple had conjured up the child.
That snowfall was the finishing touch, but even without it, this is a beautiful, brilliant book. It's based on the old Russian folk tale of Snegurochka, which is about an old couple who make the child they have never had out of snow. In this story, the couple are called Jack and Mabel. In middle age, they have moved north to Alaska as pioneers, to carve a farm and a new life out of the wilderness. The landscape is vividly evoked, with its abundance of wildlife (including bears, pine martens, silver foxes, lynx and salmon), its remote mountains, its swift-running rivers - its beauty.
Mabel has never recovered from the death of her baby some years before - one reason for the move to Alaska is to escape the heartbreak of seeing other people's children. They keep themselves to themselves, but eventually realise they need other people in order to survive, and they make friends with their neighbours, George and Esther. Esther, practical, warm and unconventional, is the perfect friend for quiet, sad, self-contained Mabel, whose icy heart begins to thaw. She and Jack begin to live again, and to rediscover each other.
And then an extraordinary thing happens. After a snowfall, Jack makes a child out of snow. And immediately after that, they glimpse a real child, who has apparently emerged from the snow. Is she real?
Well, she turns out to be. But there's more than a sprinkling of magic about this child.
I won't say any more. I know I'm late to the party with this book and many of you will already have read it, but I don't want to spoil it for those who haven't. But - I read a lot. I read many books I would be happy - no, delighted - to have written myself. But it's not often I read one and think - there. That's how to do it. That's what it's all about. Mal Peet's Keeper was one, and this is another.