They were rich, they were ready, they were ravenous for bear.
–Laline Paull - The Ice - c.2017
It is the near future and the ice caps are melting. The Arctic sea ice is gone, as are almost all the polar bears. But not the tourists. They come in their droves, the wealthy, looking for that great symbol of the north. What they find is a dead body.
Tom Harding’s body.
He had gone missing, presumed dead in an accident years earlier, now his body has surfaced. With the body comes an inquest, and questions.
Sean Cawson, once Tom’s best friend, was with him when the accident happened, now his memories of that time, of his friendship with Tom, all his past actions are coming back into question just as he believes his aims are within his grasp.
This is a very different book to Paull’s first novel, The Bees, which I loved. It deals with people, for a start, but also it is an investigation into a death. It is a mystery and a psyhcological investigation all at the same time. But both The Ice and The Bees share an awareness of the damage humanity is doing to the environment. Both books deal with changing climates, of environmental upheavals, but also they focus on outsiders in communities. In The Bees Flora was different from the other bees of her colony, here Sean is an outsider to the rich and privileged people he wants to join. He may have made his money, but he still feels himself as different to them.
I really enjoyed The Ice, although it took me a chapter or two to get stuck into it. I loved the little extracts from explorer’s journals. The sense of the Arctic as a place is wonderful. It reminded me a little of Michelle Paver’s Dark Matter in the way it described its setting. But those extracts also served to highlight the exploitation of the Arctic over the years.
It is one of those books that has its characters keep what they know from the reader, right up until the end, so if that sort of thing bothers you maybe this isnt for you. Personally I enjoyed it, and I also thought that Sean actually hid the facts from himself, at least until he was forced to address the truth. That’s how he dealt with a lot of life, denial and turning away from the truth.
Paull certainly writes interesting and entertaining books, I’ll look forward to reading her next book.