A few years ago, I read and loved Eowyn Ivey’s debut novel The Snow Child, enthralled by its beautiful writing and magical story. So when I heard that a new novel was coming soon I was so excited, and was overjoyed to receive a proof copy of To the Bright Edge of the World. And when I settled down to read it this weekend I was totally captivated by it and finished reading within a day.
‘I do not go because my husband orders me. I do not go out of some need to prove or earn anything. And while it will give me joy to remain some time longer at my husband’s side, it is not even that alone. Instead, I go because I long to see this wild place for myself.’
This novel tells the story of Colonel Allen Forrester, who in 1885 leads an expedition into Alaska, specifically to the Wolverine River, to document information regarding the native tribes that live there. The journey will be filled with challenges and none more so than Forrester’s separation from his beloved wife, Sophie. Sophie Forrester is a remarkable young lady with a thirst for life and adventure, and she is desperate to join Allen on his expedition into the wilderness. However, due to her pregnancy Sophie has no choice but to stay at the Vancouver Barracks for her own, and her unborn child’s, safety. Their story is told predominantly through Allen and Sophie’s diary entries as they begin to adapt to life away from one and other. There are also letters between Sophie and Allen which I found particularly moving, the love between this husband and wife is wonderfully portrayed through Ivey’s exquisite prose. There were so may sentences that I wanted to read over and over, and there were so many moments in this book to savour. Reflections on life, love, and morality.
‘Yet what of love? That is another, more solid thing; it is not tricked by fine lights or spirits. It is more of earth and time, like a river-turned stone.’
Spending months apart proves to be heart wrenching for both parties but before they can hope to be reunited they have many other challenges ahead of them. For Sophie, she has to deal with the difficulties of pregnancy and trying to get her voice heard in a world where for some her role in life is predetermined. For Allen, he has a journey into the unknown, facing hunger, illness and the elements. Not to mention the potentially dangerous encounters with the native people as Allen and his team negotiate their new environment and try to build relations with the people they meet. The journey certainly takes its toll on the group, and I was gripped by their story and desperate for them to succeed and make it home safely. There is a magical quality to Ivey’s writing and this book is filled with wonderful storytelling. The story is enhanced further through the use of other documents, including correspondence between one of the Forrester’s ancestors and a museum curator as they discuss the letters, diaries and artefacts which map this couple’s incredible story. As they begin to piece together more and more elements of their history the story becomes all the more fascinating, providing valuable insight into what life was like for those on the expedition, and the people they meet along the way. The artefacts themselves represent significant events in the characters lives, each of the items tells a crucial part of their story – a story I didn’t want to end.
‘When we are young, we consume the world in great gulps, and it consumes us, and everything is mysterious and alive and fills us with desire and wonder, fear and guilt. With the passing of the years, however, those memories become distant and malleable, and we shape them into the stories of who we are. We are brave, we are cowardly. We are loving, or we are cruel.’
I adored To the Bright Edge of the World. I was quickly drawn into this world, this undiscovered land and all the challenges it brings, challenges which are faced with determination, with love and hope to get them through. This is a wonderful story of discovery, of love and loss. Of one family’s history, their journey of exploration. I was once again impressed with Eowyn Ivey’s writing which is rich in detail, filled with emotion – and a little bit of magic. I was a little sad to leave Allen and Sophie behind, but felt privileged to have had a glimpse into their remarkable journey.
To The Bright Edge of the World is to be published on 2nd August 2016 by Tinder Press. Thank you to Katie Brown at Tinder Press for providing a proof copy for review.