By Helena Chung
To the Bright Edge of the World, Eowyn Ivey’s second novel after her highly successful debut work, The Snow Child, is a heart-warming, magical tale set in the brutal yet beautiful landscape of Alaska. Written in the form of letters and diaries across more than one hundred years, it recounts the love story between Colonel Allen Forrester and his pregnant wife Sophie, as the couple are separated from each other when Allen goes on a year-long expedition to map the Wolverine River. Meanwhile, in the parallel plotline of the present, Walter, an old man who inherits the artefacts and papers of the Forresters, forms an unexpected friendship with Josh, a young museum curator who is living in Alaska. The Alaska of this storyline is now fully developed with traces of its Indian past barely remaining. As the readers follow the investigation of Walter and Josh into the past, we are thrown into the dazzling, mystical, and at times sinister world of ice and snow, where the fragility of human lives is never felt more deeply than against the majestic powers of Mother Nature.
While Allen’s adventures with his small team of explorers who struggle to stay alive and sane as they are forced to face their worst fears – both physical and psychological in the barbaric wildness – are extremely captivating and exciting, Ivey doesn’t neglect Sophie’s life back at home, for rather than waiting for her husband like a stereotypical housewife in the 19th century, the character embarks on her own journey of self-discovery as tragedy strikes unexpectedly. Here, Ivey’s supreme skills as a mature novelist are demonstrated, for rather than being restricted by the traditions of adventure fiction genre, she gives both male and female protagonists equal emphasis, narrating Sophie’s exploration with photography and her potential for greater achievement with subtle details that allow readers to cry and smile along with our courageous heroine.
Just like The Snow Child, To the Bright Edge of the World has mysterious elements thrown in which remain unexplained even till the ending. It may be a bit frustrating to readers who are looking for happy endings and a finite conclusion. However, Christmas is perhaps the best time for one to get cosy in bed with a book that allows escape from reality into the world of fiction where magic is not understood, but experienced.
Photograph: Chapman Photography via Flickr