Title: A Woman Made of Snow
Author: Elisabeth Gifford
Publisher: Corvus, 2021; RRP: $29.99
After growing up in a vicarage in the English midlands, Elisabeth Gifford achieved academic qualifications in French literature, world religions and creative writing. She has written a series of historical fiction books on subjects as varied as a doctor in a World War II ghetto, and missionaries in China. A Woman Made of Snow is her fifth book.
Marriage towards the end of WWII, quickly followed by the birth of a baby, prevents Caro from following her plans to begin a career in academia like her husband, Alasdair. Having moved from London to Alasdair’s family home in Fife, Scotland, Caro feels stifled by her mother-in-law, Martha. A combination of the discovery of a body on the grounds of Kelly Castle, the family home, and a need to restore and maintain the castle, provides the background to this story. Alasdair’s family history involves a missing relative – there are no records, no photographs and no mention made of Alasdair’s great-grandmother. Could hers be the body that is revealed during a flood? Caro is given the task of reviewing family documents to help support a claim for funds from the National Trust and simultaneously search for information about the missing woman.
The author deftly weaves a narrative between the early years after WWII and the1880s. Research into contact between Scottish whaling ships and the customs and living conditions of the Inuit people they encountered provides an extremely interesting thread and some significant plot twists. These are supported by an exploration of the developments in relationships between different generations in families, both the more recent as well those from the 19th century.
It is interesting to see the character development throughout this novel. Relationships change, some for the better and others not so much, as the story unfolds. Other characters are not what they seem.
This is a really enjoyable book for both its depiction of relationships and its exploration of otherwise little-known information about the contact between Scottish whalers and the Arctic First Nations people.
Reviewed by: Elisabeth Bridson, October 2022
Ballarat Writers Inc. Book Review Group
Review copy provided by the publisher