Tag Archives: Arctic

Book review: The Ice

Laline PaullThe Ice by Laline Paull is a climate change thriller which takes place partly in the Arctic and partly in a courtroom in Canterbury. Sean and Tom met as students when Tom attended a meeting of the exclusive Lost Explorers’ Society and Sean was a waiter. They became friends because of their shared fascination for the Arctic. Both go on to forge careers revolving around the Arctic; Tom becomes an environmental campaigner, Sean a businessman. Their friendship, agreements and arguments are key to this novel. When, in chapter one, Tom’s body is revealed by an iceberg calving from a glacier it is the catalyst for all that follows.

Tom was known to be dead, having died in an accident in an ice cave on Svalbard three years earlier, an accident which Sean survived. An inquest is called, Sean’s business partners fly in to give evidence and to support Sean who is seeing visions of Tom around every corner. It becomes clear that Sean, now divorced and living with one of his investors, Martine, is not hands-on with his business in Svalbard. Midgard Lodge is an exclusive retreat where businessmen and politicians can meet to do deals. Sean’s upfront motivation is to encourage the capitalists to see the Arctic surrounding them, the polar bears, whales and glaciers, and convert them to environmentalism. With this in mind, he recruited Tom to the business. His partners however – the odious Joe Kingsmith and irritating Radiance Young – set my alarm bells ringing very early on. What exactly goes on at Midgard Lodge and why doesn’t Sean, supposedly the CEO, find out? And how could Tom not ask more questions before signing his contract?

There are some big topics touched on here: the opening of shipping channels over the North Pole, the political and military ramifications, the melting of the ice, the wealthy tourists who demand to see the polar bear they were promised in the holiday brochure, business executives who take the money and avoid asking difficult questions because that’s the easiest and most convenient thing to do. To reduce it to essentials, this is a novel about greed and love. How greed can destroy everything: not just business, but friendships, families and ultimately the ice.

I enjoyed The Ice but was left feeling vaguely dissatisfied. A day after I finished reading it, I realized why: it feels like it started out as a thoughtful novel about climate change, but at a later draft was turned into a thriller. The environmental message seemed preachy at times, the business sections were factual and dry, both of which took the edge off the suspense. Told from Sean’s viewpoint, the lack of Tom’s voice for me made the novel weaker. Perhaps it would have been more thrilling if various viewpoints had been juggled so the lies, risks, double-crossing and betrayals happen in real time, rather than the past.

In 2015 Laline Paull’s first novel, The Bees, was shortlisted for the Bailey’s Prize and longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize for new fiction. Read more about Paull’s writing at her website.

If you like this, try:-
‘The Surfacing’ by Cormac James
‘Under a Pole Star’ by Stef Penney
‘Dark Matter’ by Michelle Paver

‘The Ice’ by Laline Paull [UK: Fourth Estate] Buy at Amazon

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE ICE by @LalinePaull #bookreview via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2zZ

Book review: The Surfacing

the surfacing by cormac james 9-10-14

This is a consuming book about life on the edge of life, life on the edge of death. When you stand at that edge, there is not much difference between the two.

In the 1850s, the Impetus sets out into the Arctic. It is part of a rescue party to find the missing Franklin expedition. Delays on shore, including parties and flirtation with the local girls on Greenland, mean the ship is late at the muster and is assigned the most difficult sector to search. Part way into their journey, they discover a stowaway. This woman changes the life of everyone on board, particularly second in charge Lieutenant Morgan. At first she is an intruder in their male world, then she is a nuisance, but finally they accept Miss Rink as one of them. And all the time, winter draws in and the ice clamps around their boat. And Miss Rink is pregnant.

They are caught in the ice for the winter. Ice is a character in the novel; it moves, it seems to breath, it thaws and re-freezes. Their lives depend on the ice. The options are endlessly reviewed, always tempered by the thought that they – the rescuers – are in need of rescuing themselves. And if they were, by some miracle this far north, to stumble on Franklin, would they be able to help the stranded crew?

I felt myself drawn into their daily lives, the need for routine and tasks in the long dark freezing cold days when there is nothing to do. The French cook made me smile, he promises them feasts at mealtimes and serves up mush. And all the time, the story is told by Morgan. His difficulties with Captain Myer, his friend Doctor DeHaven, and with Miss Rink.

Will they survive? Will they discover Franklin, or will they in turn be rescued? This is a wonderful novel, a very different read for me. The Arctic has such a presence, James describes the sea, the ice, the barren mountains and the extreme weather, with language at the same time poetic and powerful. Above all, it is a story of fatherhood as Morgan slowly accepts that Miss Rink’s child is his. In the midst of danger, trapped by the ice which pushes their boat so high above the ice’s surface that it must be supported by wooden posts, a new life is born.

For more on Cormac James’ inspiration for The Surfacing, read this interview with the Irish Times.
Click here for Cormac James’ blog.
The lost expedition of Arctic exploration, led by Captain Sir John Franklin, left England in 1845. The ships became ice bound and all on board were lost. A rescue mission was launched from England in 1848 and searches continued throughout much of the 19th century. To read more about Franklin’s expedition, click here.
‘The Surfacing’ by Cormac James [UK: Sandstone Press]