Monday, 12 September 2016

To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey

One of my dear friends, Girl Booker, has been gushing about Eowyn Ivey's The Snow Child ever since it was first published in 2012.

It sounded wonderful and I have no idea why I haven't made the time to read it, but there it is, I haven't.

And now, here we are, with Ivey's second book to hand and The Snow Child is still sitting guiltily on my TBR pile.

In an attempt to alleviate the guilt I felt towards Girl Booker and Ivey, I made sure that To The Bright Edge of the World made it to the top of my TBR pile as soon as possible.

To The Bright Edge of the World is a fascinating blend of fact and fiction. The first person letter and journal format provided a delightful sense of confusion, or perhaps wonderment, between what was real and what was made-up.

This was a deliberate device on Ivey's behalf.

Ivey has said in an earlier interview with Writers and Books, when she was still calling the book by it's working title of Shadows of the Wolverine that,

Although it is based on real places here in Alaska, I invented the Wolverine River for The Snow Child because I wanted the freedom to play with the geography, and I decided to return there with my newest novel. Shadows, however, is set nearly 40 years earlier, in 1885, and is inspired by a true-life military expedition that traversed Alaska. In my telling, Lt. Col. Forrester ventures up the Wolverine River with a sergeant and private to explore the heart of the territory. As they travel deeper into the country, they encounter the mythology described by the land’s indigenous people. It is also the story of Sophie Forrester, the colonel’s pregnant wife, who waits for his return at Fort Vancouver. She is wrestling with her conscience and trying to find the courage to tell her husband about her past, but she is also on the cusp of making an inspiring discovery.
I’m telling the novel through journals, letters, and other documents. Some of my favorite parts to write in The Snow Child were the letters between Ada and Mabel, so I am having a lot of fun with this new project.
I confess that I was actually a little disappointed to discover that not only was the spunky Sophie Forrester not real, but neither was the Wolverine River, which Ivey had brought to life so vividly throughout her story.

Which also meant, that the wonderful black and white map that adorned the cover of my ARC was not an accurate map but a fictional one.


Colonel Forrester's character is based on the real life Henry Tureman Allen who led an expedition through Alaska in 1885. He explored the Copper, Tanana and Koyukuk Rivers with only two other men, Robertson & Fickett. At an Indian village, Taral, they met up with prospector John Bremner, who joined them on their journey, along with another prospector Peder Johnson. Several places and landmarks in Alaska are named after these men.

There are some wonderful elements woven into this story.

The old Indian with a black hat and lame leg, who liked to sleep in trees and who reappeared at odd times throughout the story. Sophie's struggle with loneliness and grief in an isolated Army barracks. The very private, independent Indian woman, Nat'aaggi, who travelled with Forrester's group for a while. And the gentle, increasingly personal correspondence between modern day Walt and Josh as they discussed the well preserved letters and journals left by the Forrester's.

Ivey also used her characters to discuss some of the bigger environmental and cultural issues at play.

The photographs included at different points were interesting (especially the Alaskan landscapes), but a few also confused me as they jarred against the lovely blur of fact and fiction that Ivey was creating with her words.

To The Bright Edge of the World is a fascinating piece of historical fiction interwoven with a few strands of the mysterious and mythical.

The letter and journal device worked really well, except for the last little bit, where I really wanted to see the reunion between Sophie and Allen. However I was happy enough to leave it to my imagination in the end, which is no doubt what Ivey intended all along.

Jane @Beyond Eden Rock's review that inspired me to read this book next is here.

P.S. In honour of my #HLOTRreadalong2017, I thought you might like to know that Eowyn Ivey was named after the character in Lord of the Rings (as played by the luminous Miranda Otto in the movies).

5 comments:

  1. Were dazzled by the book...or pleasantly entertained?

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    1. Not exactly dazzled, Nancy, but more than pleasantly entertained!

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  2. I've yet to read The Snow Child, but Jane's review convinced me to add this one to my wish list anyway. Now I must move it closer to the top!

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    1. Like Jane, it was the Forrester's marriage that really struck a chord with me. Watching them grow in trust as they gradually revealed more of themselves to the other was truly lovely.

      I also really enjoyed the descriptions of Alaska.

      Not knowing the area at all, I sometimes found the blur of fact and fiction annoying. I was very disappointed to discover that the Wolverine River was pure fantasy. I would have liked to have known that at the beginning. Some of the photos of people dotted throughout the book also confused the issue unnecessarily to my mind. And like Jane, I also couldn't quite believe that it wasn't real. It felt so real and so embedded in historical accuracy that the deviations were a little jarring at times.

      However, the story is beautifully told, the relationships are delightful and the discussions around cultural perspective and racial issues are very relevant and thought provoking. Highly recommended for lovers of historical fictional.

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  3. I was sufficiently caught up that I didn't stop to think about what was rooted in reality and what was pure invention, but the position of the dividing line does feel a little odd. I really don't like photographs in novels, so it might be lucky that I had an advance copy without them.

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