I love books about the wilderness. There is a part of me that admires and relates to the explorers who brave hostile conditions in the name of discovery and endure hardship and uncertainty to get answers – a manifestation of the undeniable curiosity of humans.
To the Bright Edge of the World is all about discovery but not just that of the landscape and country. Eowyn Ivey’s two main characters, Colonel Allen Forrester and his wife, Sophie are both about to embark on journeys where their limits will be tested as well as their resolve to continue in the face of adversity and uncertainty. In Allen’s case, this will also be in the face of apparitions which to his Westernised rational mind, are nonsense and to be discounted, but in the face of the spiritual world that he finds himself entering, they are very much reinforced by the beliefs of the tribespeople from whom he seeks sustenance and advice, and as a result, his previously conceived view of the world is sorely tested.
Told through letters, diary entries and other contemporary sources, we follow the recount of Allen and his troop as they try to navigate through uncharted territory for the American government. In parallel, we also read about Sophie’s pursuits: the mundanity of life when she is left behind; her longing to see what Allen is seeing; the prospect of having to assume a role as a soldier’s wife, to which she is ill-suited.
I loved this book. I loved it for the conjuring of the landscape of Alaska and its wildness and danger. I loved the love story between Allen and Sophie, both likeable characters with strength and trueness to themselves and each other. I loved the folklore around the Indians and the query of whether all is at it appears to be. I loved the way that Eowyn Ivey’s complex narrative read without stutter despite the different voices and different forms contained within it. I loved the camaraderie and tensions within the troop. I loved it for Sophie’s unwillingness to conform and follow her interests, despite pressure to the contrary.
It is a great book and I know that it will stay with me for a long time. The Snow Child, Ivey’s first novel has now become top of my “to read” list.