Book Review: To The Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey
Having loved Eowyn Ivey’s first novel, The Snow Child, I was interested to see what she did next – and while her setting is once again that of Alaska, she’s written a very different novel to her debut but one that is every bit as rewarding to read.
Lieutenant Colonel Allen Forrester receives the commission of a lifetime when he is charged to navigate Alaska’s hitherto impassable Wolverine River, with only a small group of men. The Wolverine is the key to opening up Alaska and its rich natural resources to the outside world, but previous attempts have ended in tragedy.
Forrester leaves behind his young wife, Sophie, newly pregnant with the child he had never expected to have. Adventurous in spirit, Sophie does not relish the prospect of a year in 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.
To The Bright Edge of the World is an epistolary novel which tells the story of Lieutenant Colonel Allen Forrester and his young wife, Sophie. Forrester is to lead an expeditionary force up the Wolverine River to explore the newly-acquired territory of Alaska and its potential to be opened up. Newly-pregnant Sophie has to learn to cope with the new life within, as well as the long period of separation from her husband.
Through their letters and diary entries, Forrester’s private journal and official reports, photographs and sketches, and the more recent correspondence between Forrester’s great-nephew and a young Alaskan museum curator, Eowyn Ivey tells the story of these two remarkable people, who not only keep their journals to remind themselves of events but intend for the other to read when they are reunited. Both Allen and Sophie struck me as atypical of the sort of people who would venture to this new frontier land but they are all the more interesting for that, and I found their letters and diary entries held my attention equally in seeing how they each cope with their lives and how they nurture their love for each other during this period of separation.
I particularly liked how the myths, legends and superstitions are supernatural and tied to the land here in a similar vein to, say, Picnic at Hanging Rock. There is a very real sense of an ancient land as a living, breathing thing, capable of being displeased and demanding sacrifice, or offering its bounty to those who respect it and take from it only what they need. And as the expedition edges its way across snow and ice, I felt a real sense of this territory and its indigenous people also being on shifting ice, about to buckle and break up under them at any moment.
To The Bright Edge of the World is a wonderful story of discovery and adventure, both for Sophie staying at home and Allen on the new frontier; of love and separation, and how these incredible people cope with that while trying to find a way back to each other; of courage and remaining true to yourself in a challenging environment; and above all, To The Bright Edge of the World is a lyrical love letter to Alaska in all its magnificence and harshness, power and beauty.
To The Bright Edge of the World is Eowyn Ivey’s second novel and it is published by Tinder Press. It’s out in hardback and ebook from 2nd August and is available from Amazon UK, Foyles, Hive (supporting your local independent bookshop) and Waterstones. You can find out more about Eowyn Ivey and her books on her Author Website, or on Facebook or on Twitter.
I received a copy for review through the Amazon Vine programme.