I started reading this on my way to Norway to join the crew of a replica Viking ship for the summer. It details the history of Arctic exploration fromI started reading this on my way to Norway to join the crew of a replica Viking ship for the summer. It details the history of Arctic exploration from the Norse arrival in Greenland and Newfoundland, through the search for the fabled Strait of Anián on the west coast of North America, to the many expeditions supported by the British Admiralty through the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, and the successful navigation of the route by Norwegian Roald Amundsen in Gjøa.
The detail provided is comprehensive, filling in the spaces around more well-known events, such as the Franklin expeditions, and gives a good account of disparities that exist between official accounts and personal correspondence for various journeys. Williams also catalogues the development of expedition field techniques and improvement of welfare standards over time, leading at times to increased successes but also overstretched confidence and greater tragedy.
However, despite my enjoyment of the subject matter, I found it hard to engage with the writing. Presenting a straightforward factual account of events, whilst freeing the text from speculation and theorising by the author, left the book rather dry and unable to hold my attention for long, disappointing with hours to fill on a long watch. The text is supported by an extensive reference and further reading section, which makes this book an excellent starting point and useful reference for further reading....more
The Blackhouse opens with the discovery of a mutilated body in the remote settlement of Ness, on Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. Elements of the killingThe Blackhouse opens with the discovery of a mutilated body in the remote settlement of Ness, on Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. Elements of the killing appear similar to a recent case in Edinburgh investigated by Detective Inspector Fin Macleod, who is drafted in to advise on the case. Fin has ties to the affected community, growing up on the island then leaving it behind at seventeen.
I'd read the second installment of the trilogy, The Lewis Man (my review), before this one, so knew what to expect from May's writing. His vivid description of the starkly beautiful landscape, the distinctive influences of language and religion on the close-knit community, and the extraordinary tradition of the guga (juvenile gannet) hunt, raise this far above standard police procedural novels. The chapter recounting Fin's teenage experience as part of the hunting crew on An Sgeir (a fictional rendering of Sula Sgeir) is particularly enthralling, detailing the customs of a way of life now alien to most of us*, and culminating in tragedy.
The echoes of the past haunt the present, with chapters alternating between the ongoing investigation and Fin's childhood, building towards a charged confrontation and a thrilling climax, keeping the reader gripped to the end.
*I'd recommend that anyone interested in finding out more about the guga hunt look out The Guga Hunters by Donald S. Murray. May references Sula: Seabird Hunters of Lewis by John Beatty, although copies of this may be harder to come by....more
I really wanted to like this book much more that I actually did. It had many elements that I enjoyed: the remote settingAround the World = Greenland.
I really wanted to like this book much more that I actually did. It had many elements that I enjoyed: the remote setting in Western Greenland; the looming presence of the late Norse settlers; the creeping uncertainty of a pandemic erasing the world they left behind, somewhat reminiscent of Nevil Shute's On the Beach; and the grim finality as the group compose what may their last letters home. This could have been a truly chilling horror story.
However, these points were counterbalanced by deeply unlikable characters (particularly Nina, whose snobbish, immature voice forms the bulk of the narrative), who seem wholly unsuited to the archaeological project and remote environment that frames the story. Yanni and Ben, each afforded 4 pages or so towards the end of the book for their POV, remain one-dimensional presences rather than fully-formed characters. By this point, the ghostly element of the tale is completely discarded; we never discover if there is a haunting or Nina's declining mental health triggered mass hysteria.
I was completely underwhelmed by the ending, perhaps because it returned to Nina who remained as selfish and pretentious as ever, unaltered by the experience. Her final actions seemed jarringly wrong, (view spoiler)[Yanni,the dedicated archaeologist who died rather than damage his dig in order to survive, would NEVER have approved of the act of scattering his ashes on the site, particularly in such a pristine environment, (hide spoiler)] undermining the previous events.
I felt that there were several issues with the setting that didn't quite ring true. The southern tip of Greenland is far south of the Arctic Circle, Cape Farewell being around the same latitude as the Orkney islands or Stavanger in Norway, which get around 6 hours of light at the winter solstice. Even as far north as Nuuk, there is still 4 hours of light at the solstice. The timescale and description in the book just doesn't seem to match the reality of the setting.
The premise of the book seemed excellent, however I felt it was sorely let down in the execution, and left me feeling disappointed and unsatisfied. I'd recommend Dark Matter by Michelle Paver rather than this.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Part of the Cannongate Myths series, this differs from the others I've read. Where other authors re-imagined and re-interpreted myths for a modern eraPart of the Cannongate Myths series, this differs from the others I've read. Where other authors re-imagined and re-interpreted myths for a modern era, Byatt tells the story of her own discovery of the Norse myths, from the creation of the world to its inevitable destruction, through story of the thin child evacuated from the realities of World War II in the city to a bucolic idyll. As the waif reads, Byatt retells in beautiful, lyrical language, absorbing the reader as the child is absorbed. ...more
Maitland draws inpiration for this collection of short stories from fairy tales, bible stories and traditional myths and legends, and weaves a beautifMaitland draws inpiration for this collection of short stories from fairy tales, bible stories and traditional myths and legends, and weaves a beautiful, lyrical and deliciously dark book from her threads. Her writing focuses strongly on the feminine experience, and gives surprising and intriguing twists to familiar tales. The stand-out stories are Far North, based on an Inuit legend, and Slicing Gingerbread, a re-working of Hansel and Gretel....more
Set in the late 1930s, with thoughts of impending war not far from the collective consciousness, a scientific expeditioAround the World = Spitzbergen.
Set in the late 1930s, with thoughts of impending war not far from the collective consciousness, a scientific expedition heads to Spitzbergen in the high Arctic. The expedition is recounted in the form of the journal of radio operator Jack Miller. Jack, already socially isolated by his circumstances in London, feels the odd-man out alongside his wealthy, upper-class, Oxbridge-educated fellow team members, out of place and possibly out of his depth.
Against the advice of the Norwegian captain, the expedition establishes a base at Gruhuken, an abandoned mining camp on a sheltered bay, during the 24-hour daylight of the polar summer. The researchers set about gathering meteorological and scientific data, and look with wonder at their surroundings. Paver's deep love of the Arctic is evident in the descriptions of the wild, vast and awe-inspiring landscape and weather conditions.
But the Arctic summer is brief. The return of twilight, then ever-lengthening night, builds a growing sense of unease in the team. However, the perceived class divide between Gus and Algie, and Jack, and a reluctance to give words, and thus form, to the creeping horror prevents them from sharing their fears. Events then conspire to leave Jack alone in camp with only the dogs he once disliked, and his dread develops into full-blown terror with the waning of the moon in the depth of the polar night.
Jack is a wholly-believable narrator, and battles to reconcile his scientific rationality against the mounting terror of being alone in dark, connecting with his primal fears and sliding into madness. His perception of reality fractures like the ice in bay, but is the real danger from an external malevolence or from an accident caused by his psychological decline?
Paver has created a bone-chilling tale, both in setting and in content, and the creeping sense of horror that spreads through the Arctic cold and dark results in a deeply-satisfying read, perfect for a snowy winter evening....more