All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: To The Bright Edge Of The World by Eowyn Ivey

on January 12, 2017

to-the-bright-edge-of-the-worldTo The Bright Edge Of The World
Eowyn Ivey
Tinder Press
2016, 461p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher}:

Winter, 1885. Lieutenant Colonel Allen Forrester accepts the mission of a lifetime, to navigate Alaska’s Wolverine River with a small band of men. The Wolverine is key to opening up the newly acquired territory of Alaska, and will transform at a stroke its destiny and that of the people who all it their home. And once Forrester and his crew pass beyond the edge of the known world, there’s no telling what awaits them.

Forrester leaves behind his young wife, Sophie, newly pregnant with the child he never expected to have. Adventurous in spirit, Sophie does not relish the prospect of a year confined to a military barracks while her husband carves a path through the wilderness. What she does not anticipate is that their year apart will demand every ounce of courage and fortitude of her that it does of her husband.

For a long while now, I haven’t really had a local bookstore. We had a Collins Books, it closed a few years ago and if I didn’t travel into Melbourne I had to rely on either buying online or buying at the department stores, which always feels a bit…..weird. Then they refurbished and extended our local shopping centre and we ended up with two new bookstores. One is a bit of an oddball, has a variety of discount books and some new releases but it’s not the sort you can count on to have plenty of new offerings although they will order in anything you want if you ask. The other is a branch of a well known independent and is beautifully decked out with a large range. They also offer “Blind Date With a Book” stands, which feature books wrapped in brown paper with three words written on the front to give you a bit of a clue. On our first trip in there, my children got to choose a book each and I couldn’t decide what to get when my attention was caught by the Blind Date books. The first one I picked up had ‘Alaska, Intricate, Myth’ written on it. I was sold on the first word. I love books featuring Alaska. I bought it straight away.

When I unwrapped it, I found this book, which made me quite happy because I’d liked the sound of Eowyn Ivey’s previous book, The Snow Child enough to buy it (let’s not talk about the fact that it’s still on my TBR shelf). I decided to add this to my January pile and figured if it went well, I might get myself another Blind Date book!

I spent most of last Sunday evening reading this and absolutely loved it! There are quite a few stories going on here – Allen Forrester (based on a real life person, Lieutenant Henry T. Allen), referred to in most cases by his men as the Colonel. He travels with several men (the party is sort of fluid, it grows and shrinks at various points) on foot and occasionally by canoe up the Wolverine River in Alaska. Waiting for him back at a barracks in Washington is his pregnant wife Sophie, younger than him and the sort of woman who isn’t going to idly keep house and take tea with the other ladies whilst she waits for his return. In the ‘present day’ there are letters of correspondence between Walter, a 70-something, a great nephew of Allen and Sophie and Josh, the young curator of a museum in Alaska, to whom Walter has entrusted the Colonel’s journals and papers.

Allen’s journal entries are fascinating…..the Colonel is a straight-forward man who mentions time and time again that he doesn’t have much use for mysticism and strange occurrences. However there are times when he finds it hard to explain what he has witnessed and heard, during his time in Alaska. Their journey is hard, they are plagued by difficult weather, trouble with provisions and their way of transporting them, a lack of viable game to supplement their provisions and various other problems that are so long you could fill a phone book. But they keep on, meeting various villages of the Native Alaskan people, learning to communicate, hearing their stories, seeing their different ways of life. Rumours abound of Native Alaskan’s slaughter of Russians as well as practices of cannibalism. As much as I love reading books set in Alaska (and I’m a sucker for TV shows about it too) I have to admit that I don’t have a huge knowledge of its history. Just the bare basics and most of my reading has been contemporary and tended toward the romance. I just find the landscape really fascinating….and beautiful. Breathtakingly beautiful. Allen’s narration of his journey was articulate and straddled that balance between matter of fact scientific ‘this is what we are doing because it is my duty and this is how we will do it’ and ‘weird things are happening here that I am not sure about’ but such was the atmosphere of Alaska that it was possible to believe that anything could happen. I loved Allen’s narration, how he included things he couldn’t explain in his personal journal. I also really enjoyed reading his letters to his wife as well as his thoughts about her. The book began after their marriage so stories of how they met and their courtship were told through letters or Allen or Sophie’s musings about the other in their journals. I found myself imagining what it would be like for Allen and Sophie to read each other’s words after they were reunited…. and then as the book went on and Allen’s party found more and more treacherous conditions and steadily lost provisions and supplies, I began to wonder even if they would be reunited. Or if Sophie would receive Allen’s journals years into the future as some other exploring party stumbled across them.

I found myself surprisingly enamoured with the small additional story line of the letters between Walt and Josh. At the beginning of the book, Walt has sent Josh the Colonel’s journals and papers as well as some of Sophie’s writings and clippings, despite Josh gently refusing them due to a lack of resources. Their letters slowly share more of their personal lives and develop a genuine affection, rather than just a business-like tone. The two are very different but they connect over the journals and papers and as Josh gets drawn deeper into the story he shares more and more snippets of what he knows as a native Alaskan of mixed heritage, some of which ties in with the Colonel’s trip. Their letters just added a really nice touch, something to give a bit of a glimpse into what happened in the years after the Colonel’s expedition and in more recent times.

This is a beautiful book, written in a truly engaging way and sensitive to the beliefs of the Native peoples it depicts. Colonel Forrester is a thoughtful and amiable narrator and although he has hard decisions to make he still weighs up options and takes into consideration the opinions of others. I really enjoyed learning about his relationship with Sophie through his writing. Sophie herself was a fun character too, her developing interest in photography gives her something to do whilst Allen is away and her desire to be different, to not care what others think of her is somewhat refreshing. I enjoyed reading her feelings about her husband just as much as I did his on her.

My Blind Date was a roaring success! So much so that I think I’ll venture to the store and choose another. And I’m digging out my copy of The Snow Child and adding it to my February reading pile because this has just convinced me that I’ve let it go unread far too long.

Brilliant.

9/10

Book #6 of 2017

 

 

 

 

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2 responses to “Review: To The Bright Edge Of The World by Eowyn Ivey

  1. Marg says:

    If only every blind date was that successful!!!

    I have looked at the blind date books but haven’t bought one yet.

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