Victor Davis's Reviews > To The Bright Edge of the World

To The Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey
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Oct 31, 2017

really liked it

I intentionally set about reading this book before researching it. I knew it was written in "epistolary" format, told completely through letters, journals, diaries, photos, and reports. I assumed it was fictional, but I knew it was "based" (loosely or not) on a real expedition. That's all I knew. I always think a books reads best with a healthy suspension of disbelief, so I consciously resisted learning anything about the book before and during the read. Spectacularly, it takes about 150-200 pages to figure out the degree to which it is indeed fictional. During that time, I was amazed to discover, and thrilled to enjoy, a state of uncertainty, trying to wrap my head around the editorial talent required to assemble real historical documents in a narrative way. Alas, while such a book may be possible, this wasn't it. Ivey does indeed create a fictional world and a fictional story, choosing only to present it as a hyper-real shoebox full of old letters for effect. And she nailed it.

The only book I can think to compare it to, in ambition and intention, is Eaters of the Dead. In that book, Crichton takes a real historical manuscript as his starting point and first 50-100 pages. (He quite literally did not write the beginning of his own book.) Then, expertly and seamlessly, he imitates the author's writing style and peels out a fictional but realistic rendition of Beowulf. It's quite the feat, and I recommend it if you haven't read it (even if, like me, you hate most of Crichton's work). Like him, Ivey chooses to create a fictional world and present it as a real one, to great effect. I don't know how well a narrative historical fiction about an early Alaskan expedition would have held my interest. But who doesn't like discovering an old shoebox of documents in the attic and assembling a story out of them?

As Michael Pollan once wrote (roughly), your first novel sits out there in the literary landscape as a point in infinite space, contextless. But your second novel, your second point in space defines a line, and thus your trajectory as an author is set. The Snow Child was one of those profound, once-in-a-lifetime treasures, keying the question "what will she do next?" after writing a Pulitzer finalist of the highest order. I was pleased the author chose to strike out in a completely different creative direction. It takes a lot of courage to defy expectations and break genre. These two books are totally and completely different. But their similarities hint at the trajectory Ivey has set out for her writing career. Both books are set in Alaska, both center around a husband-wife relationship, and both very subtly and skillfully weave elements of magical realism into the story. I look forward to see what she does next. I am a fan for life.
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Reading Progress

October 31, 2017 – Started Reading
October 31, 2017 – Shelved
November 15, 2017 – Finished Reading

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