nce upon a time there was a book mired in fairy tales. Each chapter started with a quote, many of them from ‘The Snow Queen’ by Hans Christen-Anderson.
Chloe Mayer has tuned into a winning formula with her debut novel ‘The Boy Made of Snow’. There is something about fairy tales that touches our hearts. These stories have been passed from generation to generation for centuries and their inclusion here lent this book a magical quality.
The story is set in 1940’s wartime Britain and alternates between chapters told from Anabel’s point of view and those from the point of view of her nine year old son Daniel. Annabel ostensibly started out motherhood with post natal depression and as she never appeared to get any help with it uses the crutch of alcohol to get her through the day. With her husband away at war she is in sole charge of ‘the boy’ as she calls him. Initially I thought this reference was indicative of the time period, but as time went on I began to suspect that it was further evidence of her lack of a bond with her son. Daniel, for his part, has an extremely active imagination. He views the world around him through the lens of the fairy tales his mother tells him each night before bed. These stories seem to be the only authentic point of confluence the two of them have and Daniel clings onto them with everything he has. His reliance on fairy tales threatens his grip on reality. As he is allowed to continue unchecked his imagination spirals out of control with disastrous consequences.
The Boy Made of Snow reminded me of ‘The Go-between’ by L.P. Hartley. Like Leo in The Go-between, Daniel is involved in adult matters that he doesn’t understand. His innocent meddling is at times endearing and at times infuriating. But either way you know from the beginning that he is in over his head and there will be consequences.
I found it particularly effective that Mayer chose to tell Annabel’s story in the third person and Daniel’s in the first person. Being allowed into Daniel’s head was like being let into a secret. It also helped to make the point about Anabel’s depression. It distances her further from the reader and those around her whilst at the same time bringing us closer to Daniel.
The issues this book deals with (depression, war, neglect, alcoholism) are serious, but Mayer’s clever writing tinges this bleak outlook with fairy tales and lets us look through a child’s eyes. It reminds us that the world isn’t black and white. The Boy Made of Snow pulls out every shade of grey you can think of and it is this that keeps you coming back for more. I sped through the entire story in three days. Unfortunately life gets in the way of reading, but I was picking this book up every spare minute I had. Putting something in the microwave for two minutes? Get your book out. Waiting in the queue at Starbucks? Get your book out. Brushing your teeth…? You get the idea. But whether you have several queues to stand in or hours at your disposal, The Boy Made of Snow is a magical way to fill those moments. Think of it as a Christmas present from Mayer to us all!
Next Monday, perhaps between opening your Christmas stocking and waiting for the turkey to cook, come and have a little Christmas Day peek at my blog (I’ll think of it as your Christmas present to me!) I’ll be reviewing ‘The Burgas Affair’ by Ellis Shuman. See you all on the big day!