Elisabeth Gifford is a new author to me but I was keen to read A Woman Made of Snow, attracted initially by its setting in Fife, the Scottish county I grew up, as well as by my new found love of historical fiction. And it proved to be a captivating read – set in dual timelines, moving from late 1940s Scotland to the wilds of the Arctic in the 1870s, the locations were beautifully captured and atmospherically described, it combines a love story with an element of mystery and with an intriguing cast of characters I found it a beautifully written book that kept me engaged throughout.
Caro Gillan finds herself reluctantly living on her husband Alasdair’s family’s remote estate in Scotland and life as a wife and mother, complete with interfering mother in law, is very different from the cosmopolitan career-oriented life she imagined for herself when she graduated from Cambridge. When offered the opportunity to look into Alasdair’s family history she jumps at the chance but the revelation that Alasdair’s great grandmother seems to have been written out of the history books, followed by the discovery of a woman’s body in the grounds of the estate leads her to question whether the two may be connected. Caro finds the diaries of Alasdair’s great grandfather Oliver, a medical student, who finds himself working in the whaling industry and sailing to the Arctic and so the mystery begins to be revealed.
It is clearly a thoroughly researched book and I loved the opportunity to understand something about the Inuits and their life in the Arctic at that time, something I know very little about. The two timelines are linked by some thought-provoking issues around social class and prejudice, but at its heart is an intriguing mystery and an emotional love story that I very much enjoyed.