Author: Chloe Mayer
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Published: 14 November 2017
Rating: 5 stars
‘I looked at the sunbeams, hoping to see the constellations inside them, but there was nothing there but dust in the air.’
I will start by saying that I was given an ARC copy in exchange for an honest review. These opinions are my own.
It’s 1944, in the sleepy English village of Bambury, where Daniel and his emotionally distant mother, Annabel, remain home while his father is off fighting a war that seems both all consuming and worlds away.
During the year, the army set up a Prisoner of War camp for the captured German soldiers in Bambury. It’s not long before both mother and son befriend, Hans, the POW working on a nearby farm. Suddenly their lives are filled with excitement as the prisoner comes to be important to both but in different ways. To Annabel, he is the only light that’s reached her from the darkness that’s engulfed her since Daniel’s birth. To Daniel, a solitary boy caught up in the magical world of fairy tales, he is perhaps a prince in disguise or mystical woodchopper. But Daniel has often struggled to tell the difference between what’s real and imagined. And Hans, he has plans to spin a web to entrap both mother and son for his own needs.
I adore this book, which was a big surprise for me since I’m not a fan of WWII fiction. But Mayer’s writing is stunning. I found myself slowing my reading pace and rereading paragraphs just so I could savor it. She managed to balance the World War elements, with the fairy tale threads perfectly and both where used in a way to explore the relationship between Annabel and Daniel. The world and the characters feel very real and have been beautifully crafted. The narrative tore at my heart. It was heartbreaking is a stunningly subtle way.
This story is told in alternating perspective and the way Mayer has chosen to do this is stunning. Annabel’s sections are written in third person, which feels like an extension of the distance she feels towards her son. While it’s never stated my best guess is that she is suffering from untreated postnatal depression. In contrast, Daniel’s sections are written in first person. We are with him as he imagination runs wild turning sticks into swords and fences into gallant steeds. Because each perspective is highly tailored and personalised to the character they feel like real people. We spend the whole narrative with them explore all the complexities of life during the war, dealing with a difficult family situation and feel the exhaustion of having to keep up pretenses.
The fairy tales are a huge part of this story. Annabel reads to Daniel every night before bed even though he’s nine and should be too old. It’s through these tales that Annabel can feel some kind of connection to her son and in turn that Daniel feels like his mother wants him. One of my favourite things about having the fairy tales woven in both perspectives is that we see how the different themes and character in these classics tales resonates within the pair differently. Daniel relates with the hero of the story. He is obsessed with trying to save his mother so that in turn she will love him. While Annabel is reflecting on how naïve she was when she was young and finds herself relating to the evil step-mother characters. I definitely want to go read the traditional fairytales and come back to this book and see what little clues I’ve missed.
The Boy Made of Snow is a beautifully crafted novel that takes the dangers of living during WWII, twists them with the whimsy of fairytales and lets you deep inside a broken family who are trying to hard to be ‘normal’. This is a story that I’ll be hard-pressed to forget. I highly recommend.